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Energy Innnovations

The last time Discover magazine covered an inventive new alternative energy source, it led to 286 comments (as of this writing) on a single blog entry of mine.

Now Discover is running a story on an Idealab company, Energy Innovations, attempting to create a low-cost, heat-based solar electricity generator. Sadly, only an abstract of the article is available online, but you can learn more by going to the company's Website:

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The Sunflower 250 is a work in progress toward our goal of one day making electricity that is cost-competitive with the grid. Today, while we are not there yet, we have a design prototype that we believe can get us there. Our design is somewhat radical, because it is not based on photovoltaic (PV) cells and has moving parts. But we believe that we can make this design much more cost-effectively than a PV-based system because it is simpler, more suitable for mass production, and uses significantly less energy in the actual production processes of the product.

Our product concentrates sunlight to a high temperature using very inexpensive and lightweight aluminized plastic petals that are each moved by $1 microprocessor-based servo motors, enabling them to independently track and reflect the sun. This allows us to place a compact heat engine at the focus of these petals that generates both hot water and electricity and yet contain it all in a stationary, low-profile enclosure...

At the heart of our mission is our drive to make renewable energy affordable and cost-effective. Even though there are enormous benefits to renewable energy that go beyond saving money on your electric bill, for a product to become widely adopted by consumers and businesses, it must make economic sense as well. When we release the Sunflower 250 into distribution in 2004, we anticipate that it will be priced at about half that of comparably rated PV-based systems. In addition, because we track the sun and can therefore gather sunlight for more hours of the day than solar cells, we believe we can be about 3 to 4 times more cost-effective. The combination of these factors will mean that payback periods will be dramatically shortened compared with existing PV systems, significantly increasing interest in installing renewable energy systems.

Sunflower 250 will be ready for distribution in late 2004 to installers serving the commercial and industrial markets in the United States. Expansion to the residential market and to markets outside the US will begin in 2005.

If my memory of the article is correct, the Sunflower 250 is intended to generate peak electricity of 250 watts, with an end-user price of $250. Assuming 2,000 watts for a typical house, that would mean it would cost -- in sunny regions -- $2,000 to forgo electricity bills once and for all. (Yes, one would have to buy electricity at night, but presuming lower energy usage during the day, when people are away, then surplus electicity would be available for sale to the grid, which might offset nighttime costs. I believe that in many or even all states, power companies are required to buy the electricity that their customers generate.)

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Comments

Most solar installations don't pump the electricity straight from the panels into the house electrical system, but instead use their amps to charge a big bank of batteries in the basement. The house is then powered from the batteries through inverters and regulators. This isolates the available house current from the vagaries of the weather and time of day. The batteries and associated electronics add to the cost of the installation, but historically they've been a small fraction compared to the expense of the PV cells.

So how much would the bank of batteries + inverters and regulators cost for a full 2 Kilowatt setup? If Energy Innovations comes through with $1/watt, I'm trying to figure out what a complete installation would cost.

no need for batteries and all that you just draw power off the regular grid while you sell the power your sunflower generates to the electric company. if you sell more than you use then you can actually make a profit. i remember an old episode of this old house. they went to a shutter manufacterer that was housed in an old mill with a water wheel. the wheel was attached to a generator. they drew power off the grid and sold the electricity they generated to the power company. if i recall they made something like 200 bucks a month on the setup.

joe's point is that feeding solar power into house current isn't usually done directly, but is rather done indirectly so that the house current remains highly consistent. I'm not an expert on solar power, so I can't say, but I know joe, so I'm sure he's right.

Another alternative storage medium could be hydrogen, then one could cook, heat, cool and generate electricity using the sunflower set-up, I know fuel cells are relativily expensive, but one can make them yourself a small stack at a time to replace the batteries

Happy to learn that many people are interested in alternative Energy.
I live in Africa and we have so much sun Light!!!
I will like to know why mirrors were not used in the Sunflower 250 design?
I will also like to know details of who sells the sunflower 250 Modules
Thanks

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