(Discovery) Look closely at these solar panels. They aren’t the flat panels commonly seen on rooftops, but arrays of tubular components.
These tubes, developed by Naked Energy, in Guildford, England, are a kind of hybrid solar-energy contraption that make more efficient use of the sun’s energy to produce both electricity and hot water.
They’re hybrid because they do two jobs. Most solar panels either making electricity or heat water, not both. The former is done by a photovoltaic silicon solar panel, familiar in small devices such as calculators and big rooftop installations. Solar hot water heaters are basically arrays of black plastic pipes that get heated up during the day.
The problem with either system by itself is that a lot of energy gets wasted. Photovoltaics operate at efficiencies of 20 percent, which means that most of the potential sunlight is not captured for energy and is simply lost. On top of that, when panels heat up (as they will, in the sunlight) they become less efficient — above about 77 degrees they start to generate less power. Meanwhile, a solar hot water heater can save on gas (or electric) heating, but they miss out on the chance to generate electricity.
Naked Energy’s array of tubes contains solar panels that capture sunlight to convert to electricity, but it’s also able to support water, which is pumped through the tubes, absorbing excess heat. Cooling the panels keep them running at peak efficiency. The panels thus double as hot water heaters, in a process called cogeneration.
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Photo: Naked Energy