Airlight Energy of Switzerland has come up with an integrated stand-alone dish which provides electricity, heat, hot water, air-conditioned air (through a chiller) and all at the same time. It’s called the Airlight Energy High Concentration PhotoVoltaic Thermal System or just Sunflower. Airlight designed it for use by small to medium size energy consumers, such as hotels, homes, hospitals, or small industries and can be customized according to the different requirements. However its real attraction is that it can be simply dropped in places where there is no other infrastructure. It’s cost is low enough that it makes it ideal for rural deployment in impoverished areas.
The core technology is a water-cooled solar panel developed by Bruno Michel and his colleagues at IBM, for which Airlight has licensed the patents. Mirrors on the flower-shaped structure direct the sun’s rays onto six of the panels, where the sunlight is concentrated 2000 times.
Each panel holds 25 photovoltaic chips cooled by water flowing in microchannels underneath. These carry the heat away at a rate that leaves the microchips at their optimal operating temperature. That makes the Sunflower more efficient than existing photovoltaic concentrating generators, so it needs a quarter of the panels to produce the same power. This is what makes it much cheaper than other thermal collectors.
The company also claims that it’s easy to install, is very low-maintenance, has a long lifetime and has no seasonal dependence on output.