solar dish
IBM

Most solar power systems are either photovoltaic or thermal — they work by collecting either electrical energy or heat energy. And they often use up tons of water. This system, designed by engineers in Switzerland, collects both electrical and thermal energy. And it desalinates water at the same time.

The High Concentration PhotoVoltaic Thermal system — or HCPVT , which is pronounced by hiccuping and then blowing a raspberry — works on a basically the same principle as those giant fields of mirrors that concentrate sunlight at the tops of really, really tall towers. Only the HCPVT uses really small mirror facets and concentrates the energy in teeny tiny photovoltaic chips.

That’s the electrical energy part. But concentrating all that light on the tiny chips heats them up past safe temperature. To keep them cool, the engineers ran tiny channels of cooling liquid past them to collect the heat. That heat is used to evaporate salt water — which, once condensed, becomes pure water.

This is all about equivalent to patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time. And, the engineers point out, it could be pretty cheap to make electricity this way. And doesn’t require hard-to-locate rare earth metals. And also turns lead into gold. OK, not that last one. But this is about as close to alchemy as we’re going to get in real life.