While most solar power installations involving standard photovoltaic cells are simply too expensive to be practical for most installations, a group of MIT graduate students just completed the first "parabolic" solar energy collector. Our algebra and pre-calculus students will remember that beams of light reflected from a parabola will all bounce back to the "focus" of the parabola.
For those of you with satellite television or Internet, the signal beamed down from the satellite to most of your continent is reflected by the parabolic shape of the dish onto the receiver, which just happens to sit at the focus of the parabola. While these are fairly basic optics, the real beauty of the MIT project is that, according to DailyTech.com,
The MIT team believes that their lightweight, inexpensive device holds the promise of revolutionizing the power industry and providing solar power to even remote regions.
In fact, the researchers believe that, because they can concentrate the heat from the sun so intensely, any water run near the focus could easily be vaporized to run a turbine and generate electricity.
The new dishes would return their costs in a mere couple years, unlike standard photo-voltaic installations which can take 10 years or more to return their costs. This improvement is critical to providing practical economic justification for adoption.
MIT Sloan School of Management lecturer David Pelly gave a guiding hand to the students and thinks the economic upsides of the technology are impressive. He states, "I've looked for years at a variety of solar approaches, and this is the cheapest I've seen. And the key thing in scaling it globally is that all of the materials are inexpensive and accessible anywhere in the world. I've looked all over for solar technology that could scale without subsidies. Almost nothing I've looked at has that potential. This does."