In the discussion of solar power’s potential, proponents often cite the claim that enough solar energy hits the Earth’s surface in one hour to power the world for one year. Critics, however, argue solar-power technologies have yet to achieve the ability to harvest even a fraction of that energy. Some argue we never will due to the maximum theoretical conversion efficiency of conventional photovoltaic cells.
German architect Andre Broessel thinks he has found a solution in what he calls the “Beta.ray.” His startup company, Rawlemon, has created a device that uses solar cells to collect sunlight, but it concentrates the rays up to 10,000 times with a water-filled orb that is effectively a magnifier. It’s so efficient that Broessel claims the Beta.ray can collect solar energy on cloudy days and even from the moon.
To get off the ground, Rawlemon has begun an IndieGoGo crowd-funding campaign to market a smaller device called the Beta.ey, which is a solar power cell phone charger and lamp.
In an interview with Smithsonian magazine, Broessel said the orb lens improves efficiency by up to 50 percent while using less than 25 percent of the surface area of photovoltaics that most systems use. Rawlemon’s IndieGoGo page states that, because it is using multijunction photovoltaic cells, it has reduced the cell surface down to 1 percent compared to the same power output as conventional silicon cells in optimal conditions. This means production of the device requires fewer precious materials.
Broessel said in Smithsonian magazine that solar-power systems are expensive because producing the cells has costs, including those to the environment. He went on to state that bad weather greatly reduces the effectiveness of energy output.
There is a debate over the Beta.ray’s mass production feasibility. While some claim it will be expensive to produce, Broessel contends in the Smithsonian magazine article that common materials, such as water and glass, make the resources inexpensive and that the increased efficiency make the system more plausible over time than typical photovoltaic systems.
Either way, it’s this kind of innovation that may shape the future of solar power, and some would say it’s needed if we are to power our world primarily from the sun.