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IBM Solar Dish Does Double Duty

• Martin LaMonica via

Cooling a supercomputer can provide clues on how to make solar power cheap, says IBM.

IBM Research today detailed a prototype solar dish that uses a water-cooling technology it developed for its high-end computers (see “Hot Water Helps Super-Efficient Supercomputer Keep Its Cool”). The solar concentrator uses low-cost components and produces both electricity and heat, which could be used for desalination or to run an air conditioner.

The work, funded by $2.4 million grant from the Swiss Commission for Technology and Innovation, is being done by IBM Research, the Swiss company Airlight Energy, and Swiss researchers. Since this is outside IBM’s main business, it’s not clear how the technology would be commercialized. But the high-concentration photovoltaic thermal (HCPVT) system promises to be cost-effective, according to IBM, and the design offers some insights into how to use concentrating solar power for both heat and electricity.

Typically, parabolic dishes concentrate sunlight to produce heat, which can be transfered to another machine or used to drive a Stirling engine that makes electricity (see “Running a Marine Unit on Solar and Diesel”). With this device, IBM and its partners used a solar concentrator dish to shine light on a thin array of highly efficient triple-junction solar cells, which produce electricity from sunlight. By concentrating the light 2,000 times onto hundreds of one-centimeter-square cells, IBM projects, a full-scale concentrator could provide 25 kilowatts of power.

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