Telescope Solar Panels to Double Efficiency Rates?

Posted on August 15th, 2012 by

Inspired by traditional telescope technologies and solar power in space, a small research team at the University of Arizona (UA) has designed a solar system where dish-shaped solar mirrors and a sophisticated tracking system has the potential to double efficiency rates.

Roger Angel, Regents’ Professor of Astronomy and Optical Sciences, director of the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab, and head of the team behind the solar panel system said the following about the new design:

“By using mirrors to focus on small but super-efficient photovoltaic cells, we have the potential to make twice as much electricity as even the best photovoltaic panels,”

Roger Angel in front of the new solar system.


The dish-shaped mirror focuses the sunlight onto a glass ball (not visible from the angle of the picture), which then distributes the photons (light particles) evenly across the solar panels.

In the picture above you an see the solar tracker consisting of a steel frame, which can hold as much as eight dish-shaped mirrors and solar panels – enough to meet the electricity demand of four to five typical American homes.

Space-efficiency is one of the main focuses of the new design. More intense sunlight as a result of the dish-shaped mirrors and the new tracking system means that more power is generated in less space. In fact, the team has estimated that these devices potentially could generate 10 GW, the same amount of electricity that is generated by the largest nuclear power plant in the country  (Palo Verde), on a piece of land of only 50 square miles for .

“Our technology holds the promise of getting the price of solar energy down to where it can be used on a large scale without depending on subsidies and be competitive in the electricity market.”

The Department of Energy recently granted $1.5 million to Angel’s research group to further develop the new solar design. While the technology is far from ready for the market, the new design holds a lot of promise. We need better solar power technologies to bring down the solar panel cost. It will be interesting to see how the telescope solar panels pan out in the coming years.


Photo Credits: Blake Coughenour
Source: The University of Arizona

Mathias is currently doing a Masters in Energy Engineering at NTNU in Norway. You can read more of his articles covering solar, wind and geothermal energy at Energy Informative.

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