For the last half dozen years or so I've been studying solar power. I've been actively attempting to convert my book knowledge of optics, electrical engineering, physics and computer science into a working prototype for the last couple years. My main goal is to reduce the total system cost of concentrated solar power below fossil fuel. I recently got over a HUGE hurdle. My solar prototype has produced pressurized solar steam! This is a big deal. Boiling water with the sun is easy. Grab a lens and focus it on water and it'll boil. But creating a complete insulated steam system that can handle high pressure steam and can grow to any size necessary is a more difficult challenge. I wanted to share a couple of videos of our first test.
Last year I formed a 501c3 scientific research organization, Zenman Energy, that is attempting to create an open source CSP power plant that anyone or any corporation can reproduce under a free creative commons license. Of course there are many ways to create solar power, but the problem is the same. How do we lower the cost of producing energy using the sun below the cost of fossil fuel?
In my opinion concentrated solar power is how we're going to kick our addiction to oil, coal and nuclear. If you've followed solar research in the past, you've probably heard this all before but it's certainly worth mentioning again. Concentrating solar simply means that we use inexpensive mirrors to focus a large area of sunlight onto a small area. Then we do "something" with that concentrated sunlight. Our immediate plan is to create electricity from that heat, but there are other things we can do. If you're interested in the other ideas ask, I'm happy to expand on our future plans.
The obvious thing to do when you concentrate sunlight is to heat something up. Here is a quick video to see hot it gets from nothing but a thin film of reflective mylar.
Obviously that isn't a great test to know how much energy is captured at that point, but it visually shows the heat inside there. My hand was inside of that welding glove and let me tell you after a few moments at that focal point it hurts! This particular design spreads the heat across a large area, this is known as a "linear focus". There are other lens/reflector designs that create a "spot focus" which produce higher temperatures. If you'd like to debate the merits of varying solutions, like us on Facebook and join in the discussions. We need more brain power!
None of this work that we're doing is really new science. Humans have been concentrating heat with the sun in power plants for decades now and historically humans have made use of concentrated sunlight for hundreds if not thousands of years. What we're doing is taking an age old science and engineering new solutions that do the same thing for less money.
What are we doing that's new? We're working on new designs to allow for vastly cheaper construction, cheaper manufacturing, cheaper assembly and finally cheaper maintenance. Look closely at our reflectors, they are made of nothing by mylar and plastic film. They cost $10 in materials. To improve the accuracy we've invented a secondary reflector that will autofocus the lens. To deal with the weather and allow us to use light weight frames we'll put the concentrators inside of a plastic greenhouse (not shown in these videos). To insulate the steam pipes we've invented a new style of vacuum tube that assembles in a couple minutes. Our vacuum tubes cost almost 10 times LESS than the cheapest Chinese vacuum tubes (for solar power plants, not hot water) on the market. I'm just glossing over these ideas, I'll post more in the future. We're not done, we have tons of new ideas to make this system work better and work cheaper. Being an open source system it won't be owned by any one person/company. Over time we hope that the design will get better and better.
By reducing the cost per kilowatt of solar power below the cost of fossil fuel we will encourage both individuals and corporations to start building profitable solar power plants. We can't just turn off the coal plants, we need to replace them with another energy source. We're going to build some ourselves and use the income to further research and build more solar power plants.
Anyway, I'm excited so I wanted to share our progress. Please follow us on Facebook if you're interested in solar power!