The Future of Solar Tech: MIT Develops Solar Power System that can Produce Heat and Electricity Simultaneously

Posted by erik devaney

Standard solar panels typically harness the sun’s energy for one of two reasons: to generate heat – in the form of hot water or steam – or to generate electricity.

Now, MIT researchers have determined that there could be some serious advantages to solar systems that can generate both heat and electricity at the same time. More notably, the researchers have figured out how to build these systems.

A recent paper describing the hybrid systems points to the use of two distinct components: thermoelectrics and parabolic troughs.

Thermolectrics are devices that can produce electric current as a result of differences in temperature (or a temperature gradient). Parabolic troughs, in comparison, are long, curved mirrors that can harness sunlight for heating fluids.

Prof. Evelyn Wang and Grad Student Nenad Miljkovic

The solar system proposed by Evelyn Wang, associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, and graduate student Nenad Miljkovic, would take a thermoelectric system and incorporate it into a parabolic trough. A specialized device known as a thermosiphon would transfer heat away from the cold end of the thermoelectric system (maintaining the temperature gradient necessary for generating electric current). The heat carried away by the thermosiphon could then go to heating water for space heating.

One of the main advantages of this type of system is that it could function well in both high and low temperatures, which is something traditional solar panels have difficulty with.

“Hybrid solar thermoelectrics can be utilized in residential, commercial and industrial sectors,” Miljkovic told New England Post. “Low temperature systems can be installed on rooftops to provide heat and electricity for the home/building, while higher temperature systems can be scaled up to operate in industrial settings to supply factories, chemical plants and thermal energy intensive processes requiring heat and electrical power to run.”

According to Miljkovic, hybrid solar thermoelectrics would also reduce the high costs associated with traditional solar technologies. Unlike these technologies, which have single functions (electrical power or heating), hybrid solar thermoelectrics offer dual functions.

“Hybrid solar thermoelectrics contribute a relatively inexpensive and simple alternative to other solar based technologies,” said Miljkovic. “A large portion of our energy consumption in the US is in the form of heat. While current solar technologies focus on providing either electrical power or heat; both are needed in order to meet demand… Our solution offers an alternative route to achieve hybrid operation without sacrificing electrical efficiency.”

Practical implementations of MIT’s new solar research are still a few years away. As Miljkovic commented, “Our research shows promising performance metrics, however, more work is needed to further develop the idea and validate it with a larger scale prototype.”

Related posts:

  1. MIT Discovers that Graphene can Generate Electric Current; Improvements to Night Vision and Solar Energy Systems Could be Next
  2. The Mobile Future of Solar Tech; Boston-area Researchers Develop an Artificial Leaf for Generating Fuel
  3. Massachusetts Extending Solar Hot Water Program to Commercial Buildings
  4. 100% Made in MA: Westford Solar Panel Field Will Help The Bay State’s Economy Shine
  5. Coping With A Hurricane Irene Power Outage: Tips For Living Without Electricity

Short URL:

Posted by erik devaney on Oct 21 2011. Filed under Technology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

Leave a Reply

Our Authors

Follow New England Post

Log in | Maintained by BlackDoor Creative