Solar power is fine for producing electricity in sunny countries. But current technology takes up room and is expensive for little output. The solar Sunflower, developed by IBM, aims to change that by combining lots of outputs in one machine.
The solar Sunflower is a 10 metre high dish which tracks the sun, like a flower, and uses reflective panels to enhance its power by 2,000 times. It can then produce up to 12kW of electricity, it can heat water and it can purify sea or dirty water.
The 25 solar panels are cooled by water flowing in micro-channels beneath. This carries away the heat to allow the photovoltaic chips to work at optimal efficiency – allowing these to produce fours times more power than current panels.
For areas by the coast the Sunflower can use the heated water to power a desalinator to extract fresh water. IBM claims the Sunflower can produce 2,500 litres of fresh water per day. And in non-coastal areas a purifier can be fitted to clean a supply of dirty water.
The Sunflower, according to test results, should be able to produce 12kW of electricity and 20kW of heat from 10 hours of sun.
The solar mirrors that enhance the sun are made from affordable metalised foil, like that found inside bags of crisps. Affordable energy storage is also being looked into including storing heat in rocks for use later.
The Sunflower will be tested in Morocco and India in 2016 with an expected release date of 2017.