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V3Solar puts a new spin on PV efficiency

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September 30, 2012

V3Solar has developed a cone-shaped solar energy harvester that is claimed to generate ove...

V3Solar has developed a cone-shaped solar energy harvester that is claimed to generate over 20 times more electricity than a flat panel thanks to a combination of concentrating lenses, dynamic spin, conical shape, and advanced electronics

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For the vast majority of those looking to harvest energy from the sun to satisfy domestic or business electricity needs, the photovoltaic world is a static and flat one. Even many large scale solar farms feature row upon row of rigid panels, although there may at least be some movement as the panels follow the path of the sun as it moves across the sky. V3Solar's Spin Cell is a little different. It's claimed to be capable of generating over 20 times more electricity than a flat panel with the same area of PV cells thanks to a combination of concentrating lenses, dynamic spin, conical shape, and advanced electronics.

The V3 Spin Cell actually features two cones, one made up of hundreds of triangular PV cells and a static hermetically-sealed outer lens concentrator comprising a series of interlocking rings and a number of tubular lenses spaced equally around the outside surface. According to V3Solar (previously Solarphasec), the Spin Cell's cone has been set at an angle of 56 percent to enable capture of the sun's light at more angles than flat PV panels, which negates the need for separate tracking systems and also accommodates the different angles of the sun throughout the year.

The DC produced by the panels runs to the magnets in the base ring, and as these pass magn...

The lenses concentrate light on the PV cells beneath and by spinning the inner cone, the excessive heat problems often associated with static systems that use lenses or mirrors to focus the light in one area are avoided. The PV layer is continuously cycled in and out of the concentrated light, creating a dynamic shutter and flash rate strobe effect that excites the electrons in what's described as a perfectly timed dance of light.

"Imagine holding your hand steady beneath a magnifying glass," says V3Solar. "The heat would build up to a point of discomfort, even pain. Now imagine moving your hand back and forth below the magnifying glass. You still receive the same light, but very little heat."

Here's a video of the first prototype in action:

"The spin is powered by a small amount of electricity that comes from the sun," V3Solar's Chief Marketing Officer Robert Styler told Gizmag. "It only requires one amp because the unit floats on magnets, there is almost no resistance, and the magnets are arranged to push the spin forward. The rate of spin is controlled by electronic feedback loops to maximize production."

"The panels produce DC, which runs to the magnets in the base ring. As these spin past the magnets in the stator ring, AC is produced ... just like a standard generator. It is then conditioned through the power electronics to be grid ready. We can also produce DC with the flick of a switch if that is required."

The V3 Spin Cell actually features two cones, one made up of hundreds of triangular PV cel...

The company has just announced that a Spin Cell prototype recently underwent third party testing where it was verified as being capable of generating over 20 times more electricity than a static flat panel with the same area of photovoltaic cells. The test involved wirelessly connecting the module to data loggers which recorded information on such things as heat, revolution speed, and output.

It was also found that the layer of PV cells never exceeded 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35°C), and determined that the module would perform indefinitely at 20 times concentration. More tests are scheduled to analyze performance at 40, 50 and 75 times light concentration levels.

V3Solar has recently joined forces with Nectar Design to complete the engineering and commercial design of its one meter high and one meter wide Spin Cell module, and has just secured its first licensing agreement to supply 800,000 Spin Cell units for a large solar farm.

Source: V3 Solar

V3Solar has produced the following video explaining its Spin Cell technology:

About the Author
Paul Ridden While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag.   All articles by Paul Ridden
36 Comments

That is simply wonderful, Exactly what I had in mind It mimics a Pyramid.

If pyramids don't cast shadow then that made one efficient solar power generator. Thumbs up!

Udhaya Kumar
30th September, 2012 @ 05:57 pm PDT

spilling electrons? "power electronics"? transferred to... magnets? It's like someone grabbed every cliche from every bogus power scam ever fabricated, and spun it all into one new scam (pardon my pun).

The one number they mention: "one amp because the unit floats on magnets" triggered my "bulsh#tometer"... if it's floating on magnets, it's as near as practicable to frictionless, thus would never need anywhere near a whole amp (which isn't even the right unit of measurement).

christopher
30th September, 2012 @ 07:09 pm PDT

That's very interesting technology, but what about cost? Solyndra's cylinder shaped PVs were supposed to revolutionize solar and look where they are now. Unless this technology can compete with Chinese panels in terms of cost per watt, I don't see this succeeding.

Morgan W. Jones
30th September, 2012 @ 07:29 pm PDT

I see daleks. The "spin-cells" are aptly named if you look at their website, which contains a fair bit of spin and not much about price and availability.

nutcase
30th September, 2012 @ 07:46 pm PDT

Well I hope they're capable of generating over 20 times more electricity than a flat panel! Look at how complex they are—that means they're much more expensive to built, set up, maintain AND repair.

I'm not suggesting that the technology is not good—maybe it's great—I don't know enough about it, but complexity DOES has some real down sides and costs.

yrag
30th September, 2012 @ 09:02 pm PDT

This looks like another scheme that creates outrageous power by using outrageous numbers of solar panels in the same footprint. Still, I like the idea of moving the cells past the concentrator; that seems like a viable way to avoid heat build up.

Tysto
30th September, 2012 @ 10:31 pm PDT

Count me in with Christopher: I'm not convinced. Spinning the cone means it's out of the sun 50% of the time. The sun delivers a consistent W/m^2 so in order to get 20x the energy input, you need to be collecting from 20x the area (see http://www.gizmag.com/hypersolar-concentrators-could-boost-solar-panel-light-input/17914/), but on this generator, the concentrator appears to be about the same size as the panels, and covers them, so anywhere it's concentrating the energy to is being taken from elsewhere on the panel, giving a best case of zero gain (unless the cells have higher efficiency at higher input levels).

Putting the whole thing under a closed dome seems like a good way of increasing heat build-up rather than reducing it, and the smaller size means it's harder to dissipate it - it's much easier to dissipate the heat from a flat panel.

The only way I can see this working is if they have PV cells that are 20x more efficient, but that need concentrators to allow them to perform that well - but having cells that efficient would be a much bigger story than cone shaped widgets. There's some basic physics at work here: there's a certain amount of energy available, and various obstacles to getting at it. What this is suggesting doesn't seem to be in any way touching on the basic premise of shining light on a PV cell and turning as much of that energy into electricity as possible. Current state of the art in PV is discussed here, and suggests a possible efficiency of about 55% for a 400x concentrator: http://spectrum.ieee.org/green-tech/solar/tapping-the-power-of-100-suns

Synchro
1st October, 2012 @ 03:36 am PDT

If you are generating 20 times more energy, but spininng 20 times more solar cells to do it, you gain nothing. Its cute, but it doesnt appear to move solar power forward. What is the installed cost per mean MWatt of generated power?

JBar
1st October, 2012 @ 06:09 am PDT

Mantenerse con la debida libertad de elegir tanto la más apropiada tecnología para garantizar energía limpia y eficiente para nuestra sociedad, como la forma más participativa en el modelo de acceso a esta, es una prioridad en todo concepto de administración sostenible.

En ello va, empoderar al usuario como beneficiario, dueño, socio capitalista, productor, o una combinación de estas formas, puesto de lo contrario caemos en el paradigma aplastante de siempre: La dominación de mega inversionistas en ausencia de control o complicidad de un estado que no vela por el verdadero bienestar de su ciudadanía. Este es solo un ejemplo... ...aprovecho de soñar un poco más, para todos nosotros.

Pro San Pedro de Atacama
1st October, 2012 @ 06:25 am PDT

"angle of 56 percent" what? Is that relative to a full circle, or 90 degrees?

"a perfectly timed dance of light." what? anyway, let's wait and see when they appear on the market...

agulesin
1st October, 2012 @ 07:01 am PDT

This presentation makes so many wild claims that if they are valid, it is the greatest scientific discovery ever. Seriously? 20 times the energy of a flat panel? Most flat panels turn about 20% of the sunlight hitting them into electricity. To achieve 20 times that efficiency you would have to have panels that are 400% efficient, magically turning every kilowatt of sunlight hitting them into 4 kilowatts. The fact that most of the day half the lenses and panels on the cone are in shadow makes this achievement even more impressive.

Michaelc
1st October, 2012 @ 07:02 am PDT

It's about time someone came up with a new Turboencabulator!

MG48
1st October, 2012 @ 10:05 am PDT

Oftened wondered, why not simply put these onto a vertical wind generator as well?

Should be able to capture some of the heat to help with cleaning & de-icing in winter..

Bob Flint
1st October, 2012 @ 10:26 am PDT

Michaelc and Synchro are apparently the only guys who understand basic physics enough to catch the HUGE BS factor here. You can only concentrate the solar flux, you cannot multiply the average within a given area. If any part of this hokum is true, then it just means smaller cheaper cells can do the job of larger more expensive ones, BUT you will get no significantly larger power per square meter than other PV "arrays". You will possibly be able to use a lot more cheap cells to get the same results as other concentrating PV methods. Cost per watt is the final number that matters.

Dr Dick
1st October, 2012 @ 10:51 am PDT

There is clearly some confusion on the basic concept. Please read this:

http://v3solar.com/technology/readfirst/

Hopefully that will clear up any confusion. We are in the middle of testing our prototype so we are not sharing cost per watt at this time.

Best,

Robert

V3Solar Admin
1st October, 2012 @ 12:29 pm PDT

Yeah, the marketing copy on this is awful. They really need to let the engineers aprove the script first, but I do like the idea of concentrating lenses and a moving array to dissipate heat. I'm concerned that if the outer code is completely covering the inner PV cone, that will make a greenhouse effect and capture the heat. It doesn't do much good to spin it in an enclosed oven. I suppose some kind of blower could be put in to draw hot air out since it's already spinning. I'm very curious about the price point. All that complexity is going to really jack up the price. It all comes down to $ ÷ Watts.

samcrut
1st October, 2012 @ 12:50 pm PDT

looks nice, sounds good, but I still wonder about the maintenance and life of the equipment. Cleaning the lenses, electrical connections via brushes, etc. It looks like a great concept, but there definitely looks to be a cost for maintenance and replacement parts. Any lenses really should be made of a non-yellowing material like glass. I hope this works. Good luck!

Sonya Jones
1st October, 2012 @ 02:17 pm PDT

Thanks Robert. I will be following your website closely. It would be great if this makes it to the market rather than the the ever-increasing annals of vapourware.

It's an unfortunate side-effect of the internet that any moron with a half-baked idea can dress it up with a pretty website and make it look like a product.

nutcase
1st October, 2012 @ 03:46 pm PDT

OK, that page clears things up a bit. The 20x is the concentration factor, and while the PV cells are about the same size as the collector, the part that's in use at any given moment is 1/20th of the area of the cells which would seem to cancel out. So there is no 20x gain in efficiency. It's a bit like the HyperSolar approach, but instead of using a small, expensive, high-efficiency cell, it uses bigger, cheaper, less efficient ones, but helps them run more efficiently by keeping them cooler, running them at a 5% duty cycle.

According to that page, the actual efficiency gain seems to be around 10%, which is worthwhile, however, it's not clear if the same gains couldn't be obtained by providing flat panels with better cooling. I don't know enough about PV to tell if the claim about well-filling/emptying is true.

Given the chimney shape of the panel, I'd have thought it wouldn't be too difficult to power the rotation by convection - the hotter it gets, the faster it would go, and wouldn't require any electrical power.

Synchro
1st October, 2012 @ 11:56 pm PDT

I take one small exception to Dr. Dick's statement. Cost per watt-hour (energy) is what matters, not cost per watt (power). I otherwise agree with his statements and the rest of the well informed detractors.

Al Lewis
2nd October, 2012 @ 07:00 am PDT

Synchro. The big advantage is that we produce the same amount of watts using 1/20th of the PV material. This is a huge cost savings since the lensing material is much less expensive than the PV. Plus we use standard mono-crystalline PV...nothing exotic or expensive. We have solved the heat issue. This is a big deal.

Light is converted into electricity in nanoseconds. Heat is transferred in milliseconds (1000X longer). We capture the light and spin away before the heat can be transferred.

I hope that helps.

V3Solar Admin
2nd October, 2012 @ 09:38 am PDT

I know that boundary effects in dc do degrade electrical connections and that the pulsing of electrical energy could overcome some issues there, via the rotation from light to dark. Seems this would work with a concentrator or mirror setup to keep size small but light collection high and could have built in air fans for cooling. Lots of thermal stress then.

Seilertechco
2nd October, 2012 @ 11:29 am PDT

20x concentration is great, however, it can NOT generate 20x the energy in the same space as conventional because conventional is like 15% efficient, and thus this device would magically be 300% efficient. I believe that 50 or 60% is theoretical max, unless combined with heat gathering, in which 100% is still impossible in the real world.

Robert Bernal
2nd October, 2012 @ 03:41 pm PDT

OK Mr.V3 Spokesman.

Care to explain how you will get all that massive solar electric power out of your spinning top?

Are you planning to use slip rings?

Or maybe flexible cable and just spin it backwards every few days?

Did you ever hear of Cosine error?

Oh well, I'm sure that you will find a few "sophisticated investors" after all, there's a sucker born every minute.

Keef Wivaneff
2nd October, 2012 @ 03:41 pm PDT

@V3Solar (Robert?):

I appreciate the hard work you guys are doing to provide a big step forward for renewable energy and developing a made in the US industry.

For tech heads the description is "suspicious", not in a nefarious sense, but in a "marketing" wrote it sense. Without getting too nitty gritty these were my first questions:

"V3Solar’s Spin Cell is able to concentrate 20X more sunlight"

Concentration is meaningless without a measurement of area. Saying 20x *more sunlight* implies the cone is receiving sunlight from a total area 2,000% (20 x 100%) larger than the cross section of the cone. Visually this is clearly not the case. The magnifying strip along the height of the cone probably creates a stripe of sunlight that is 20x brighter than direct sunlight. It does not, however, add more sunlight than what would otherwise shine on the cross section of the cone.

"The Spin Cell concentrates the light and avoids the heat"

This is unfortunate phrasing. The heat is *NOT* avoided because it is a direct function of sunlight hitting the PV. What is avoided is "heat buildup" (as mentioned at the end of that paragraph), by allowing heat to dissipate when not under the stripe of 20x concentrated light.

"Tests to date have shown improvements under laboratory conditions of around 30%, which effectively lifts the efficiency of the PV."

More unfortunate phrasing. It could mean that total efficiency of the cross section of the cone is absorbed at 30%, or that a 30% improvement of 20% means an effective absorption of (0.2 * 1.3) 26%. Hence the "effectively lifts" portion of that statement. Or it could mean only the strip of 20x light is absorbed at 30% (26%?) percent efficiency.

"20% efficient PV, 5 square meters of PV material and 5 square meters of light is required to produce 1000 watts of electricity" Ok, can see that *assuming* even light distribution on flat panels with a light source that is not moving, 0.2(percent eff) * 5.0(sq meters) * 1000( watts per sq meters) = 1000 watts.

"With 30% efficient PV, approximately 3.3 square meters of light and PV material is required." Whoa, now hold on there, your cone does not have even light distribution, so 3.3 square meters of what? Average cone cross section? Total light+shadow area of cone? Area of the 20x light concentration stripe on the cones?

On the home page the claim is: "The Spin Cell produces over 20X more electricity than the same amount of PV on flat, static panels." But the About page only references 20x concentrated light and the summary claims only that the design: "increase the total amount of energy produced by each spin cell."

If I had to guess, some marketing/web designer isn't savvy and just grabbed onto the 20x number and used it incorrectly. The actual improvement is a 26%-30% efficiency for absorption of light by the cross section of the cone at a wider angle range of light source (the sun).

Sanescience
2nd October, 2012 @ 03:45 pm PDT

It looks cooler than PV panels, I give it that. Using less PV cells and significantly higher efficiency are good things, however creating magnets and other moveable parts is going to add up to the price. Best to sit back and wait for more numbers to do some real comparisons.

Fretting Freddy the Ferret pressing the Fret
2nd October, 2012 @ 04:05 pm PDT

My education in PV is Stanford, and I'm President of an optics company that provides R&D to advanced PV systems, along with information display technologies.

Heat in standard PV reduces efficiency by increasing resistance of electron path. With concentrators, this is a far more serious issue, rapidly degrading function and lifespans of components, and requires novel internal cooling systems or other approaches. Concentrators are used where space is limited, and have clear potential in energy production.

The V3Solar approach is clever in that it reduces solar thermal loading by limiting direct solar exposure duration, and by providing an insulating air layer between the concentrator lenses and the silicon, and by further use of the cone's rotation to cycle cool air into that layer. Air is a great and cheap insulator.

Without knowing if the cells are multi-junction, I would still expect the concentrator cone material to be UV-VIS-IR transmissive for efficiency. Quartz would be good, BK9, fused silica, and some others, but they wouldn't be cheap. This aspect I have a concern about.

My other concern would be concentrator efficiency. I don't see the lens surface area required to fit the math. Concentrators more normally use reflectors- cheap reflective surfaces - to focus on a small area.

We should all be skeptical, but also open-minded. There are some innovative elements to v3solar. I wish I knew more about these coneheads, but I don't think this is just snake oil.

derbyod
3rd October, 2012 @ 12:34 am PDT

As I said, cost per watt (of output capacity), not per watt-hour...

This is the figure used in the power industry to compare

construction-of-capacity costs.. A new CCGT plant comes in

at about $1 per watt of capacity. Plant output power costs are then dependent on fuel and other operating .costs, which are the second and equally Important concern.

Test results, including total area required for a given peak and average capacity are an important specification. The video also needs to clear up true behaviors in actual solar flux, as opposed to lab lamp illumination, as actual solar flux curves vary by angle due to atmospheric absorption as well. So the daily power curve is not nearly so "square" as illustrated.

Dr Dick
3rd October, 2012 @ 12:54 am PDT

Let's trace the movement of one single solar cell. It spends half the time in a complete shadow. Less than 10% of the time underneath a magnifying stripe (I used my eyesight to estimate this - the area of the magnified light stripe must be even smaller than the size of the magnifying stripes themselves) and the rest of the time moving on a circular path which is exposed to the sun but the angle is not optimal. So let's say it gets (10%time X 20unit + approx 0.5unit X 40%time) sunlight. This is 2.2 times as much as a flat panel would get, yet they state that a certain area of PV creates 20 times as much electricity in their cone as the same area used as a flat panel. It's odd..

Barabas
3rd October, 2012 @ 03:51 am PDT

Barabas....your estimate of 2.2 times is VERY generous.

I believe the claims made on the website of v3 go well beyond optimism and exaggeration and into the realm of outright lies.

Similar unproven and exaggerated performance claims were made for the SunCube. These claims resulted in billion dollar losses to shareholders in Emcore and are the subject of a belated class action in USA.

SunCube (GGE) is now in liquidation with creditors unlikely to receive any recompense.

Not one single SunCube was ever sold but dozens of licences to produce and sub-franchises were sold around the world.

The CEO continues to enjoy his jet-setting lifestye and is launching new Green Widget plans once more.

The corporate regulators seem unable/unwilling to act against companies that make false claims for their new improved "Green Widgets" and invariably close the stable door after the horse has nicked off.

Keef Wivaneff
3rd October, 2012 @ 03:48 pm PDT

If they could also use the green house effect with thermo couple to generate additional energy, or spin with the help of wind. That could add to the energy produced.

Dawar Saify
7th October, 2012 @ 04:45 am PDT

The concept is using expensive lenses to save costs on what are now relatively cheap silicon PV cells which are running at £250 per IKW set.

There are already PV/Heat capture combi panels boasting 40 - 75% efficiency using cheap reflectors. However there are still people willing to buy a 45 watt wind generator for their 5KWhr consuming home so what do I know ?.

L1ma
7th October, 2012 @ 12:58 pm PDT

It would be more efficient to cool the solar cells and use the heat either directly or to generate electricity.

Pikeman
9th October, 2012 @ 11:19 pm PDT

Looks cool, but what would the price be? With all the bells and whistles seems like it will be 3 x the price of conventional solar panels. Can you please inform what the price will be.

Cal Verdun
12th October, 2012 @ 02:47 pm PDT

We understand that many of you have legitimate questions and want to more fully grasp the technology. I am sure that you can understand why we need to be protective of our tech and we only share specifics under NDA. The bottom line will be our price per watt peak and our levelized cost of energy. As our CTO says, "If it does not capture market share, it does not matter." Our next step is to test several versions of the prototypes in real world conditions in the field. Thank you to the over 4,000 people who have signed up for our email list. We will share information as it is appropriate. We understand your excitement and appreciate your patience. Thanks.

Robert Styler
16th November, 2012 @ 06:26 pm PST

It seems more cost effective to move the light via advances in Photonics rather than moving the panel and experience losses via slip rings or induction.

GRich
5th February, 2013 @ 12:58 pm PST
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