V3Solar: Spinning solar cells keep cool, produce more power

by James Martin II on January 31, 2013

V3Solar Spin Cell

The image of solar photovoltaic (PV) modules that lives in the minds of most people is that of the ‘solar panel’: a flat, stationary device that absorbs sunlight and turns it into usable electricity. A new company, V3Solar, is aiming to upend this conception of solar PV technology, with spinning cones of solar photovoltaic material that do a better job than their flat counterparts at significantly lower cost. The company hopes that its CoolSpin technology will revolutionise the solar PV market as we know it, and give solar power a stronger economic argument for its case against fossil fuels.

The V3Solar Spin Cell: Technological advantages

V3Solar’s Spin Cell technology has a number of purported advantages over conventional flat solar panels, but what sets it apart boils down to 2 well-known facts about solar PV: 1) More light means increased power production and 2) more heavily concentrated light means a build-up of heat, which impedes power production.

Cool under pressure…

One advantage of solar PV often espoused by its proponents is the fact that solar panels have ‘no moving parts’ and are therefore less likely to need maintenance as time goes on compared to other means of power generation. The other side of the coin, however, is that flat solar panels also have no means of cooling themselves–the excess light that they absorb is converted into heat.  Every solar panel spec sheet includes information about temperature coefficient–the rate at which a solar panel loses power output in relation to temperature.

The Spin Cell solves the problem by introducing magnets, which allow the PV material within it to spin freely. By spinning, the Spin Cell keeps itself cool, and fewer excess electrons are able to sink in to heat it up. The result is greater efficiency, meaning less PV material necessary to produce the same amount of power–higher efficiency. Under test conditions, the operating temperature of the Spin Cell never exceeded 15 degrees C above the ambient temperature, whilst flat panels reached over 220C with the same test and concentration.

…and the heat of multiple suns

The cooling effect off the Spin Cell is complemented by the fact that incident light on the modules is in effect magnified and optimised by the glass that encapsulates the cells. As the PV substrate spins past the ridges, it undergoes countless artificial sunrises and sunsets, keeping an ‘avalanche’ of electrons coming.

 This concentration of light would require exotic material such as triple-junction cells, if not for the fact that spinning keeps the PV material cool.

Power Production Flat Solar Panel vs V3Solar Module

A comparison of time-of-day power output between a typical flat panel (outer arc) and a V3Solar Spin Cell (inner arc)

Best location for a V3Solar module: Virtually anywhere

An additional benefit of the conical shape of the spin cells is that they thereby bypass one of the key disadvantages of flat panels–that of proper orientation and tilting. By design, Spin Cell modules can collect sunlight from the north, south, east, west, as well as all directions in between as long as they are placed upright. In the easiest case, V3Solar modules can be placed around the yard, eliminating the need for altering roofs–and thereby legally bypassing building codes. Imagery on the V3Solar website even seems to suggest that the modules could be eventually become a commonplace sight on city streets, hovering above sidewalks on the ‘branches’ of tree-like poles.

V3Solar Spin Cells - Urban Street

One potential application of V3Solar’s Spin Cells–visualised

(The Spin Cell tree idea assumes that most people will enjoy seeing them around town, and indeed the modules were originally conceptualised as a perfect meeting of art and practicality. Although aesthetics are a matter of taste, the company extols the grace and beauty of its product. Admittedly, it is quite pretty compared to more conventional means of generating power–most notably coal and nuclear plants.)

Integration into the existing PV market

As exemplified by the Spin Cell tree mentioned above, V3Solar seems to see countless instances where its modules could be positioned, with the possibility that they may eventually become so commonplace as to go virtually unnoticed by passers by. Although its design is ground-breaking in many ways, V3Solar’s modules’ success will rely a great deal on how readily they can be integrated into existing electrical infrastructure. The company says that this will not be a problem, for a number of reasons.

- Spin Cell technology will work with any photovoltaic material–crystalline or thin-film silicon as well as other non-silicon technologies–meaning that any solar PV manufacturer’s technology can potentially be used with V3Solar in Spin Cell modules and made more efficient by the dynamic spin. Although they have additional parts that conventional solar panels do not, these costs cover the integrated inverter, racking, and tracking. The company’s focus is total cost ownership, not simply cost per watt.

- The modules contain power electronics, and the DC electricity produced by the PV material is converted into grid-compatible AC electricity via the dynamic spin, eliminating the need for a separate inverter to do this job. The system can also be modified to produce DC electricity if the situation calls for it.

- The modules could be built in different sizes to suit the circumstances–smaller modules for portable applications, and larger ones for off-grid ‘power plants’ in remote and rural areas. The first one available on the market, however, will be a 1 kilowatt-peak (1kWp) unit.

The Spin Cell involves some complex engineering, and the company is developing the CoolSpin technology, which will integrate into existing concentrating solar photovoltaic (CPV) infrastructure in order to prove the technology in large-scale commercial projects and generate revenue.

Where can I get Spin Cell modules?

V3Solar has only just recently announced its plans to enter commercial production (in an exclusive on Cleantechnica). The company is planning to have the modules in mass production by the end of 2013. They are not yet available to customers.

All images via V3Solar

© 2013 Solar Selections Pty Ltd

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