It’s a new turn on concentrating photovoltaics (CPV). Cool Earth Solar’s inflated, tubular CPV system encases PV cells in a lightweight tube of thin plastic films, which concentrate the sun on the cells. Cool Earth Solar partnered with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to test and deploy 100 kilowatts of the unique CPV modules at the Livermore Valley Open Campus’s Clean Energy Demonstration Field.
The campus includes the Lawrence Lab as well as Sandia National Laboratories, the city of Livermore, the iGate iHub and more than 33 community partners, according to Lawrence. Cool Earth Solar has already partnered with Sandia on the pilot project to validate the technology. But now, under a partnership with Lawrence Livermore, the California Energy Commission awarded them $1.7 million to test how communities can integrate solar. Cool Earth is matching the award with $1 million.
"This is an issue that can be addressed by better solar power forecasting to allow active balancing on the grid, including adaptive building energy management," said Wayne Miller, Lawernce Livermore's lead on the project. "This project will develop and test the efficacy of this approach."
Cool Earth Solar explains its technology thusly: “Our inflated, tube-shaped concentrators are key to Cool Earth's innovative design. Each 3 foot diameter concentrator is made of plastic film—similar to that used commercially for packaging and shipping.” The company says the form naturally focuses sunlight on the PV cells in the tube, which helps to reduce the amount of expensive materials, like PV cells, in the system. “In fact, a single cell in our concentrator generates up to 30 times the electricity of a solar cell without a concentrator.” The system is PV-cell agnostic. It can use silicon PV cells, multi-junction cells or even thin-film PV cells.
The devices also include small air pumps to maintain air pressure, and a heat sink. The company says the systems are strong enough to withstand the weight of a person and can withstand winds of up to 40 miles an hour. Since they’re lighter than many other PV modules and concentrators, the structures they’re built on can be much lighter, too.
In all, the research will both evaluate the technology and look at how low-cost solar can be integrated into a community. “This project will test and demonstrate a model for how communities can generate solar energy, forecasting that solar generation and developing energy management tools to adapt to that forecast,” Lawrence said. The lab is providing Cool Earth Solar with advanced solar forecasting, which can forecast the available solar resource up to an hour ahead, and building energy management tools in an efforts to improve efficiency and reduce or shave the peak load of energy.
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