31 Flavors

There may not actually be 31 different versions of “solar” energy in use around the world these days, but it’s close and that is causing a massive amount of confusion for customers and observers, alike. As you all know, SkyPower is in the business of designing and building photovoltaic (PV) electric systems for homes and businesses around the State of Arizona because without any question, it’s the most efficient and cost effective mechanism to make electricity in a place as sunny as Arizona. Our blogs are very much PV centric … but from time to time, we do cross over into other technologies, not as experts, but rather as educated fans of all things renewable. It is in that spirit that we present some other “solar” technologies that just might add power to our world without ruining it. The first major category of “solar” that is not PV is solar concentrated thermal. The idea here is to focus the Sun into a point of intense heat. This can be done with parabolic mirrors or flat mirrors on trackers. If you can aim enough of sunlight at a single point, you can create huge heat which is essentially identical to a coal or gas fired electric plant. After all, heat is heat … no matter where you get it … and that’s the beauty of these designs. The heat that drives these power plants comes at no cost of material or delivery … free fuel to make heat that is in turn used to make electricity. There are many schemes to make this heat, but the central theme is focusing the Sun on a single point (tower or trough) and harvesting the heat. A side variation of this is to simply collect the heat for some other use besides making electricity, such as hot water for a shower or laundry.

Just recently, plans got under way to build something called a “Solar Tower” which is really a wind/solar hybrid thing. Here you see a huge tube … as tall as it could possibly be … maybe twice the height of the Sears Tower in the middle of the desert. This tower is surrounded by an even larger disk that is flat on the ground except raised some twenty to fifty feet. At the base of the tube (under the disk) are a bunch of wind turbines. Now, here’s the neat part … as the Sun bakes the desert floor under the disk, the air gets warm … hot, actually and rises. With nowhere to go except up the tube, the air passes by the wind turbines, makes electricity and then goes up the stack and out the top. No fuel, not pollution … just air movement and power. Why do you want such a large tube? The taller the tube, the cooler the air is at the top and the faster the air will move driving the turbines. One more variation on this before we leave you is solar photosynthesis … nature’s original solar power. Want to see this working? Look at any green plant and you can see it working. The Sun shines on the plant and the plant turns the light, CO2 and some nutrients into power. This “power” can be cooked into liquid fuel and used to run planes, trains and automobiles. We could go on and one with these “solar” power plants, but you get the idea. Using the Sun’s heat or light to make something from nothing. They are all “solar” but actually just end up confusing everyone by using this single word … solar. So far, in this new energy world, everything is being called “solar” because we don’t have better words yet. Unfortunately, it’s just confusing everyone. Just as the Eskimos have fifty words for snow, pretty soon we, too will have fifty words for solar power … or maybe just 31?


If you have any questions, please call Jay Leopold at 480-290-2040 or email Jay at jay@skypoweraz.com. Sign up to receive our blog updates at http://feeds.feedburner.com/skypowersolar   Remember to tune in every Thursday night at 8:00pm on the SkyPower website for Season #3 of The Renewable Power Hour at http://skypoweraz.com/radio-show-season-3/.   Take advantage of a FREE SOLAR QUOTE—click here.