back to article Supercomputer water-cooling comes to solar power

Solar power outfit Airlight Energy has borrowed technology from the world of supercomputers to make its large-scale photovoltaic collectors more efficient, on the way heating water to get a second source of energy. As explained by the IEEE, the Swiss company has created a spin-off called Dsolar to develop its dish-style large- …

  1. The Axe

    Still inefficient

    "IBM Research says the system can concentrate the Sun's energy 2,000 times, and turn 80 per cent of that into electricity."

    Doesn't change the fact that overall photovoltaics are only about 30% efficient. They are cheating and making up numbers to fool people into thinking that they've suddenly found the solution to the problem with solar power.

    1. wilber

      Re: Still inefficient

      However, the voice over in the video was misquoted in this article.

      That's not what was said in the video. 'Useful energy' does not necessarily equate to electricity alone It is the combination of electrical energy and heat energy (which can be used for other purposes).

    2. Atomic Duetto

      Re: Still inefficient

      {Doesn't change the fact that overall photovoltaics are only about 30% efficient. They are cheating and making up numbers to fool people into thinking that they've suddenly found the solution to the problem with solar power.}

      There is no efficiency problem with solar power. It works fine now and can only improve. The roof on my little workers cottage here in Brisbane city produces more kW (up to 5) than I can actually use.

      However, there is a dearth of good storage solutions for all the excess energy Solar generates (here). Hopefully the boffins will master a good solid state LiBH4 storge solution before I'm recycled into fossil fuels.

    3. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Still inefficient

      And it looks like they get 60% more in terms of hot water.

      Not bad compared with the 40% you might get from a nuclear power station - well over twice as 'efficient'.

      1. Ian Rogers

        The trick is *useful* energy

        They're getting 12KW of electricity out of 40m^2 of collector (the area of the mirrors) so that's still 30% efficient using the rule of thumb that there's 1KW of sun energy per square meter.

        The extra 20KW of hot water is interesting, but how useful is that on a hot sunny day?...

        1. Nigel 11

          Re: The trick is *useful* energy

          Scale this down to house-sized? Sounds as if you could have 2-3kWp of electricity, and store the hot water in a tank (somewhat larger than the standard one with immersion heater). Can you say free hot baths for the whole family almost anytime they want?

          Yes, you might have to dump some surplus hot water at the height of summer, but so what? You still have the electricity. I suspect it's possible to dump the heat into the earth through a ground source heat pump running backwards in summer, and reclaim much of the heat in winter, but that would be another story. Or use a large (underground, well-insulated) tank of water instead of ground?

          The main question is whether this sort of solar PV panel can be cheap enough compared to the ordinary sort, once the supply of free hot water is factored in.

          1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

            Re: The trick is *useful* energy

            There's a uk company that makes a domestic version of this without all the micro channel doodads. Just basically a standard pv with the water heater version behind it. Looks worth doing.

            Edit:possibly the same crowd linked disparagingly below.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @Ian Rogers

          That hot water isn't totally useless on a hot day - unless you take cold showers and don't use any hot water for washing clothes or dishes. But yeah, most of it will be wasted.

          On the other hand, you produce a lot of hot water on a sunny day even when it is 0F outside, and you can definitely use hot water then. Perfect as a secondary input to a desuperheater on the front end of a geothermal radiant heat system.

        3. ibmzrl

          Re: The trick is *useful* energy

          The water can be desalinated

        4. therealmav

          Re: The trick is *useful* energy

          The extra 20KW of hot water is interesting, but how useful is that on a hot sunny day?...

          That depends. If you collocate with something that uses lots of heat/hot water. Like say a brewery, then it would be very useful indeed. Mmmmm beer

  2. Anonymous Blowhard

    Does anyone involved have a modular firearm made of gold?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hang on a minuite !!!!

    So you telling me some of the best scientists in the world have just figured out that ..

    The sun heats up a solar cell, and that waste heat can be used to create more electricity.

    Now i'm no genius, but common !!! this is basic understanding of physics.

    I feel disappointed, that this wasn't worked on earlier. we have had solar tech for quite a long time.

    *anon due to knee jerk reaction to protection of the boffins

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Hang on a minuite !!!!

      I've been an advocate of renewables for a long time but it is remarkable how people seem to miss things that are bleeding obvious when someone spots them.

      5 years ago interest rates made renewable a serious investment and windmills are precision engineered and very expensive. Now interest rates are fuck all and it actually makes a lot of sense to put up much cheaper but not quite as efficient ones - imagine pressed steel blades rather than handcrafted profiled jobies - £10 for a meter long one rather than £150 ...

    2. kmac499

      Re: Hang on a minuite !!!!

      Renewables are a lot like Rocket Science very easy in concept..(it all starts with F=ma)

      But also like Rocketry the Engineering is the hard bit..

    3. handle

      Re: Hang on a minuite !!!!

      No, AC, no-one is telling you that some of the best scientists in the world have just figured out some basic physics. What a silly statement.

      The breakthrough is in applying it. This project looks like several techniques have been brought together to make a practical solution. As far as heat production is concerned, the clever bit is being able to get electricity and useful heat (i.e. at a reasonable temperature) at the same time. Without the specialised cooling there would be a large temperature difference between the cells and the cooling water, so you either end up with fried cells or tepid (useless) water.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Hang on a minuite !!!!


        While I agree that applying theory to practice is not as easy as we all imagine it to be, Concentrating the suns power on 1 point to get useful temperature from the coolant as well as using a solar panel, is not a massive jump in intellectual brilliance. They have done this with solar collection plants for a while now.

        Ask a 10 year old "you have a mirror shining light on a solar cell and the water is only 35 how could you get the water a higher temperature?" You will probably find they have the answer readily available.

        Will test this on a 7 year old and 6 year old over dinner tonight, will return with results tomorrow.

        1. handle

          Re: Hang on a minuite !!!!

          You're still missing the point though - concentrating the sun's power on one point to get high temperature heat is not the clever bit. They have indeed been doing this for ages, but they have not been doing it with a photovoltaic panel in the way, because traditional methods of cooling would fry the panel. You are asking your 10 year old the wrong question. Please ask how you get water at 90 degrees while keeping the panel below 100 degrees.

  4. Gene Cash Silver badge

    "micro-channels are etched"

    I guess that IBM micro channel architecture finally found a killer app!

  5. squigbobble

    Budget version already available.

    1. handle

      Re: Budget version already available.

      Useless version already available, more like. If that generated usable amounts of heat it would tell you the water inlet/outlet temperatures and flow rate in the specs, but these are glaringly absent.

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