Modern solar collectors can concentrate only so much energy for safety's sake: too much in one place and they risk cooking themselves. An IBM-led group is working on a new collector dish that could avoid that damage while taking a big step forward in solar power efficiency. The hundreds of photovoltaic chips gathering energy at the center will be cooled by the same sort of microchannel water cooling that kept Aquasar from frying, letting each chip safely concentrate 2,000 times the solar energy it would normally face. The collector also promises to do more with sunlight once it's trapped: since the microchannels should absorb more than half of the waste heat, their hot water byproduct can either be filtered into drinkable water or converted into air conditioning.
As you might imagine, IBM sees more than just the obvious environmental benefit. When a receiver will generate about 25kW of energy while costing less to make through cheaper mirrors and structures, a fully developed solar array could be an affordable replacement for coal power that delivers greater independence -- picture remote towns that need a fresh water supply. IBM doesn't estimate when we'll see production of these collectors beyond several prototypes, but the finished work will likely be welcome to anyone frustrated by the scalability of current solar energy.
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