July 28, 2003

New Power Generation

New Power Generation

In this month's issue of Discover magazine, Bill Gross, inventor and founder of Idealab, talks about a new method of solar power generation. Instead of using photovoltaics like the flat panels we are used to, it uses a relatively simple combination of mirrors that focus heat on an engine in the center containing pistons powered by the heated air. The mirrors track the sun throughout the day, ensuring a constant power level. The real beauty of the invention is that they have nearly reached their goal efficiency cost of one dollar per watt, at which point the quarter kilowatt device can actually be cost-effective for businesses and homes that want to reduce costs or add power to the grid. Unfortunately, the Discover article isn't available on-line, but the web site of the Idealab spinoff, Energy Innovations is. Discover does have several links to more information about the underlying technology. If this radical and inexpensive approach bears out, this device could radically alter our approach to power generation, especially in power-hungry yet sunny areas like southern California.
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