Multi-use solar collector inspired by lotus flower
March 1, 2012
This rather novel solar collector draws inspiration from the lotus flower to provide small-scale solar energy - both electric and thermal - to domestic and small business users. The aptly named Monarch Lotus (rebranded from the Solar Umbrella) has 18 petals which unfold to to form a 4-meter (13-foot) diameter flower solar collector that will, if development goes to plan, produce 3 kW of photovoltaic electrical power and 3 kW of solar thermal power per 100-kg (220-pound) unit in ideal conditions.
Even in less than ideal weather, Monarch, the company behind the Lotus, hopes the device will be good for a solid 2 kW of PV, and the same again for thermal. The plan is for the collector will use high-efficiency solar cells capable of converting 40 percent of captured solar energy into electricity, while the Lotus will absorb another 40 percent as heat energy. Water is required to cool the solar cells, so hot water is a useful by-product.
Monarch claims that, connected to a water purification unit, the collector would be capable of producing a 10,000 liters of purified water per unit per day (based on an ideal 3 kW of power dedicated solely to purification). The company reckons that this is enough purified water for a community of over 100 people.
The ability to open and close like a lotus flower is more than a gimmick. As well as aiding transportation, a closed Lotus is better able to withstand wind and rain. The Lotus is opened by pulling open the center six petals, with a network of "strings" opening the rest.
Though Monarch says that the collector would be ideal for a cafe, its potential for water purification and off-grid electricity generation do cry out for a role in international development. Because the Lotus is free-standing rather than roof-mounted, such an innovation may prove ideal in rural parts of developing countries where homes are not built to withstand the weight of solar panels. And because the Lotus is light enough to be transported by truck, Monarch says it is ideal for emergency deployment in disaster zones.
Monarch hopes that an installed cost of under US$9,000 per Lotus can be achieved, which the company equates to an installed cost of $1.5 per watt. The incorporation of photovoltaics is not finalized, as Monarch is investigating connection to a high pressure steam engine is an alternative, potentially more efficient, means of electricity generation. Though it's evident Monarch has created a physical prototype, it's not yet clear how far the company is from achieving its performance targets.