Adaptive Material with self tracking of the sun Could Cut the Cost of Solar in Half to 4 cents per kwh

Glint Photonics is developing a novel solar concentrator in which an embedded liquid layer provides passive and automatic optical alignment to the incident sunlight, adjusting the optical properties of the concentrator to track the position of the sun. This “self-tracking” functionality is actuated by the sunlight itself, and doesn’t require any control system. It results in high-concentration optics with a wide effective acceptance angle, eliminating the requirement for precise alignment that has so-far limited concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) systems in delivering high efficiency conversion at low system cost. The self-aligning CPV module maintains the simple mounting characteristics of traditional flat-plate PV, and may be placed on standard low-precision trackers or even in stationary configurations. The design permits wide manufacturing tolerances, as the concentrator can automatically compensate for misalignment and manufacturing variability in the optical components. The concentrator itself is designed to be extremely low-cost, due to low material usage and simple manufacturing.

Small lenses focus sunlight onto an adaptive material that helps track the movement of the sun.

Glint’s products will lower the cost of solar energy, improve the performance of cameras, enable agile lightweight optics in the infrared, and more.

A new material, combined with a cheap tracking system, could unleash the promise of concentrated solar power. A material with optical properties that change to help it capture more incoming sunlight could cut the cost of solar power in half, according to Glint Photonics.

Glint’s adaptive material greatly reduces the cost of a tracking system used in some types of solar power. It changes its reflectivity in response to heat from concentrated sunlight in a way that makes it possible capture light coming in at different angles throughout the day.

It’s well known that focusing sunlight makes it possible to use smaller, cheaper solar cells. But this is usually done with lenses or mirrors, which must be moved precisely as the sun advances across the sky to ensure that concentrated sunlight remains focused on the cells. The equipment required for that and the large amount of steel and concrete needed to keep the apparatus steady makes the approach expensive.

Glint’s light concentrator has two parts. The first is an array of thin, inexpensive lenses that concentrate sunlight. The second is a sheet of glass that serves to concentrate that light more—up to 500 times—as light gathered over its surface is concentrated at its edges.

Glint’s CEO Peter Kozodoy says solar power from its devices could cost four cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to eight cents per kilowatt-hour for the best conventional solar panels.

The sheet of glass is covered with reflective materials on the front and the back that trap light inside the glass. One of these sides features the new adaptive substance made by Glint. When a beam of concentrated light from the array of lenses hits the material, it heats up part of it, causing that part to stop being reflective, which in turn allows light to enter the glass sheet. The material remains reflective everywhere else, helping to trap that light inside the glass—and the light bounces around until it reaches the thin edge of the glass, where a small solar cell is mounted to generate electricity.

As the day goes on, the beam of light from the lenses moves and the material adapts, always allowing light in only where the beam of light falls, and reducing the need to keep the apparatus pointed directly at the sun.

$2.2 million in ARPA-E funding will allow the company to scale up from prototypes just 2.5 centimeters across to make 30-centimeter modules, nearly large enough for commercial operation.

Glint’s design enables CPV modules to use traditional mounting technology and techniques, reducing installation complexity and cost. These self-tracking concentrators can significantly decrease the cost of solar power modules by enabling high efficiency while eliminating the additional costs of precision trackers and specialized mounting hardware. The concentrator itself is designed to be manufactured at extremely low-cost due to low material usage and compatibility with high-speed fabrication techniques. Glint’s complete module costs are estimated to be $0.35/watt-peak.

If successful, Glint’s low-cost solar power module will bring CPV technology to building rooftops.

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