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Listen Up: Solar Energy Technology Innovations

The first time I heard about Ultrasolar and pyroelectricity I checked the calendar to see if it was April 1st. Engineers and scientists are automatically skeptical of device efficiencies over 100 percent. But when I dug into their technology a bit more, I realized that they actually may be on to a practical way for an inverter to increase the output of a standard solar module.

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With apologies to Cliff Clavin's Theory of Beer, here's my understanding of how their technology works. When photons from sunlight hit atoms in the compounds in a solar cell they kick off electrons. Some of these electrons are hot and fast — they escape through the crystal matrix of the cell and make it out to the wires, generating useful electrical current. But the cooler, slower, mellower electrons don't have enough energy to make it out of the matrix — they get stuck and usually die.

Ultrasolar has developed an electronic circuit (ideally built into an inverter) that passes a very high frequency signal backwards through the DC wires into the solar module and cells. The slower electrons catch these waves and are turned into hot and fast electrons for long enough to escape the crystal matrix and generate a useful current. 

So listen to this week's Energy Show on Renewable Energy World for Santosh Kumar's explanation of pyroelectricity and Ultrasolar's technology. My take on it is if the energy it takes to generate this high frequency signal in the inverter is actually less than the increase in the module's output — we really are talking about inverter efficiencies of over 100 percent. Wouldn't that be cool beer?

Find more episodes of The Energy Show here.

About The Energy Show

As energy costs consume more and more of our hard-earned dollars, we as consumers really start to pay attention. But we don't have to resign ourselves to $5/gallon gas prices, $200/month electric bills and $500 heating bills. There are literally hundreds of products, tricks and techniques that we can use to dramatically reduce these costs — very affordably.

The Energy Show on Renewable Energy World is a weekly 20-minute podcast that provides tips and advice to reduce your home and business energy consumption. Every week we'll cover topics that will help cut your energy bill, explain new products and technologies in plain English, and cut through the hype so that you can make smart and cost-effective energy choices. 

About Your Host

Barry Cinnamon is a long-time advocate of renewable energy and is a widely recognized solar power expert. In 2001 he founded Akeena Solar — which grew to become the largest national residential solar installer by the middle of the last decade with over 10,000 rooftop customers coast to coast. He partnered with Westinghouse to create Westinghouse Solar in 2010, and sold the company in 2012.

His pioneering work on reducing costs of rooftop solar power systems include Andalay, the first solar panel with integrated racking, grounding and wiring; the first UL listed AC solar panel; and the first fully “plug and play” AC solar panel. His current efforts are focused on reducing the soft costs for solar power systems, which cause system prices in the U.S. to be double those of Germany.

Although Barry may be known for his outspoken work in the solar industry, he has hands-on experience with a wide range of energy saving technologies.  He's been doing residential energy audits since the punch card days, developed one of the first ground-source heat pumps in the early ‘80s, and always abides by the Laws of Thermodynamics.

Lead image: Green microphone via Shutterstock

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