In just three years, solar energy systems may become simpler to install and maintain, less expensive to buy and capable of producing much more energy.
MIT engineer and professor Marc A. Baldo and a team of MIT graduate students have created a “solar concentrator” that reduces the amount of solar cells—and thereby the amount of money—needed to collect the sun’s energy and increases the electrical power each cell obtains by a factor of 40. This technological breakthrough also means that current solar-panel system owners may be able to enhance their systems’ output by more than 50 percent for a minimal expense. The solar concentrator collects light over a large area, such as a window pane, then gathers that light at the edges. Solar cells are placed only around the edges, rather than covering the entire surface. The secret to the MIT solar concentrator lies in its unique mixture of dyes, which cover the collector’s surface and allow for greater control over light absorption and emission than has been possible in previous attempts at concentrator technology.
Three of Baldo’s students have launched Covalent Solar to bring the product to the commercial market within three years. Covalent Solar won first place in the Energy category at the 2008 MIT Entrepreneurship Competition. “Solar concentrators hold tremendous promise to improve the efficiency of solar, and I applaud the MIT team for their recent awards and ongoing efforts to advance concentrator technology,” says Neal Lurie, director of marketing for the American Solar Energy Society.