Late last month, I wrote a post about an intriguing new solar technology that promised to radically reduce the delivered price of solar electricity. At the top of my post, I included that standard disclaimer, warning people not to get too excited until the product proved itself in the marketplace.
Of course, that disclaimer did not stop the inevitable: Cranky people from all over the internet descended on the comments to explain why the technology is absurd and could never possibly work. This is a familiar cycle to anyone who writes about cleantech.
Robert Styler, the chief marketing officer at V3Solar, contacted me to ask if I would elevate his response to some of the criticisms so that people would be sure to see it. So I’m doing that.
Just to be clear: I have no particular expertise on solar technology. I’m in no position to adjudicate these conflicts. But I do think they’re worth hashing out in public. So here are some criticisms from champion skeptic MrSteve007 and some responses from Mr. Styler.
We don’t reveal everything about our tech on the internet and that creates some false assumptions. Hopefully this will clear up some of the more common mistakes. In response to the questions by MrSteve007:
1. No matter what angle the sun is shining, 50% of the solar cells are always shaded at one time (except at high noon, at the equator). That dramatically increases cost and inversely lowers efficiency.
Steve, you are looking at this as static rather than dynamic. The inner cone is rapidly spinning in and out of highly concentrated bands of light — also, the ambient light on the backside of the cone will be captured. PV is a light-sensitive semiconductor. Every other semiconductor works under periodicity, on/off, 1/0, binary code. For the last 30 years, PV has either been ON during the day, or OFF during the night. Moore’s law states that the computing power of semiconductors doubles every two years. Why have we not seen a similar dramatic increase in PV?
By creating high-intensity flashes of light, we make the PV respond differently than it does in a static environment, just baking in the sun (see Q-switching and the Avalanche Photodiode effect). Again, we only go into specifics under NDA [non-disclosure agreement] with stakeholders and investors. We all know what we know, but few are open-minded enough to know what we don’t know — and that’s the first step of innovation.
2. Solar cells work best when the sun is perpendicular to the panel — by mounting the panels at a spinning 45% angle, you get the reduced production angle of flat panels, and all the complications and maintenance problems of tracking.
The lensing on the outer cone focuses the light through the day and year at the proper angle as the inner, PV cone spins.
3. They tout the device is cooled by the spinning motion, and then in another sentence, say the whole thing is under hermetically sealed glass. That’ll generate one heck of a greenhouse effect. Spinning won’t cool it if the air is blazing hot around the panel.
I recorded the word “hermetically sealed” in the audio and it has created some misunderstanding. The PV and the electronic circuitry are sealed. There is an air exchange between the outer cone, which does not spin, and the inner PV cone, which does spin. Sorry for the confusion.
4. Spinning a panel constantly = constantly consuming energy just to spin the panel. Not exactly an efficient idea.
The inner PV cone floats on magnets and uses less than 10 watts. The gains of dynamic spin far outweigh the minimal loss. Since no parts are rubbing against each other, this also minimizes the maintenance concern below.
5. Anything with mechanical motion will break down and require regular maintenance.
Seriously? So wind power and washing machines are too complex to reach mass market acceptance? For large-scale commercial farms, we can use the same large-scale AC wind inverters that GE and others have developed for the wind industry. Yes, we have an “inverter” built into the Spin Cell, but it may be more cost effective on large projects to remove that aspect and use inverters developed for the wind industry to connect with the grid.
6. Honing and creating a perfectly conical and sealed glass won’t be cheap or easy (if even possible). If it’s plastic, expect UV to cloud the plastic covering fairly rapidly.
We are under NDA with a Fortune 50 company that has developed a new process for the outer cone. It will be glass, with the lensing added by a proprietary process. The pricing is quite competitive.
This brings up another question — there is only 1000 watts of light in a square meter, etc. We understand that. It was a major stumbling block for me and it took me months to wrap my mind around it. There is a staircasing, or additive, effect of light, as the PV spins rapidly under multiple lenses. I am not going to go into the specifics here, because it is almost irrelevant. The outer lensing cone is a nominal cost. In our BOM costs, we calculated it being 2.5X bigger than the size we believe it is going to be. If it ends up being 5X bigger, it would still only add 5 cents/Wp to our BOM costs. If there is no staircasing, we simply make the outer cone bigger.
I could go on and on as to why this isn’t a design imagined by someone who knows what they’re talking about, let alone an engineer. I’ll put good money down that this product (if it even makes it to prototype stage) is destined to be a complete flop.
Our engineers and the engineers at NectarDesign.com deserve more respect, Steve. We understand there are legitimate questions, but let’s not be rude. To protect our stakeholders, we don’t share all of the specifics online, and that creates some misunderstandings. We have strong patent protection, but not everyone respects patents. We flew Bill Rever out to meet with our engineers and do a full technical analysis, which is on our website.
I wrote this response because I respect Grist and the comments seemed to have spiraled downward. As Einstein wrote, “We still do not know one thousandth of one percent of what nature has revealed to us.” It is interesting that the default for many people (especially with internet comments) is, “I don’t understand it, so it must be wrong.” We still have plenty of work to do, but we have proven our assumptions. The fun part will be commercial production and market share.
If you’d like to contact me, I can be reached at Robert.Styler@V3Solar.com … and please use your real name, 007.
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