New highly efficient and low-cost hybrid solar energy converter has been developed by scientists at Tulane University in New Orleans, as reported by PV Magazine. This system can produce electricity and high-temperature heat, in one device. Since the system has a small footprint and modular design, it is useful for commercial, industrial, food processing, chemical production, water treatment, and enhanced oil recovery.
This system is defined as a transmissive concentrator photovoltaic/thermal (CPV/T) system which combines a solar power generator with a high-efficiency III–V, triple-junction solar cells, and also a solar thermal system based on parabolic trough collectors. Scientists also applied a water-cooled, spectral-splitting tCPV module with a conversion efficiency of 39.9% to a dimple plate cavity thermal receiver with independent temperature control of the two components and separate harvesting of ultraviolet (UV) visible and infrared light.
According to the researchers, one of the most challenging issues was cooling. The PV cell temperatures had to be maintained below 110 degree Celsius, which was achieved by a microfludic cooling system on the panel.
The researchers stated that ”Our CPV cells serve as both electricity generators and spectrum splitters, with minimal incident angle sensitivity and no major additional components other than the requisite CPV cooling system, ” The cells used in this system were developed by Boeing-Spectrolab, which works with solar for space exploration. They reflect infrared rays to a receiver with a highly absorbent coating which then turns into thermal energy.
The researchers also said “We fabricate and test multiple CPV/thermal receivers … ramping the collector area from 0.25 to 2.72m2 to increase the system power and effective concentration factor.”
The device was tested in San Diego California using a solar simulator and a natural AM1.5G spectrum (It is a global spectrum defined for solar concentrator work). According to the results, it has an efficiency of 85.1%, It had 38 W of electric power, 903 W of hot water output, and 1,139 W of high-temperature steam output. The LCOE (levelized cost of energy) of the project was somewhere near $0.03/kWh.
According to the research group: “System economics based on a 2.72m2 prototype performance is shown to be at or near market competitiveness to natural-gas-produced process heat for a variety of locations”. They also said that the technical and economic viability of the device would depend on it having plentiful solar resources, being close to an end-user, and the space for the storage.
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