A New Kind Of Solar, Or Just More Spin?

Grid parity in the U.S. this year | Screen capture of ILSR's Solar Parity Map

A new, intriguing approach to rooftop solar power is getting some attention lately, but will the product live up to its developers' promises? V3 Solar's CoolSpin unit offers the possibility of inexpensive, efficient solar power generation that surpasses flat panels in productivity, while eliminating the need for inverters to turn the power generated into alternating current. But some of the developers' claims have ReWire scratching its figurative head.

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V3 Solar's proposed CoolSpin unit, a meter-wide rotating cone with embedded photovoltaic cells set for mass production in the second half of 2013, offers an elegant solution to a few drawbacks inherent in flat-panel solar -- if it works as advertised. The conical design ensures that some of the cone's PV cells will be facing the sun directly from sunrise to sunset, eliminating the need for tracking mechanisms. Bar lenses concentrate available sunlight onto the PV cells as they spin past, increasing power production. The spinning motion helps cool the PV cells, reducing efficiency losses from overheating. And that spin also allows the unit to generate alternating current without the use of inverters, saving on costs.

V3 says that its product will produce power at a "levelized cost" (cost averaged over the unit's lifetime) of eight cents per kilowatt-hour, which would make the CoolSpin's power cheaper than any other source of energy other than natural gas, which now runs between six and seven cents per kilowatt-hour.

Between that and the CoolSpin's marvelous "form factor," which would allow installation atop almost any rooftop, not to mention power poles, streetlamps, dedicated pedestals, and probably a few dozen other common urban settings, V3's product would seem to offer a hugely important tool in getting to our new solar future. V3 claims the CoolSpin will deliver around 200 watts of power from 11 square feet of mounting space.

That is, if the product lives up to the promises. V3 has posted on its site an encouraging review of its technology by consultant Bill Rever, who confirms that many of the basic claims V3 makes may well be valid. Rever's no slouch in the credibility department, so his analysis carries some weight.

But then there's what V3 itself says about the CoolSpin's promise, as in this video:

We're not engineers or physicists, but there are a few red flags that pop up for us here, mainly having to do with hyperbole and odd metaphors. "An avalanche of electrons" from the strobe-like illumination as PV cells pass beneath the lenses is described in the video as fact, while in Rever's December 2012 review he calls this "cascade effect" "a hypothesis under review." The claim that simulated sunrises and sunsets offer bursts of concentrated illumination may be based on something real, but V3's explanation seems counterintuitive, to say the least.

And this recent discussion thread from the Australian Alternative Technology Association forum contains some rather pointedly skeptical views about V3's claims, running the gamut from mild eyebrow lifting to complete condemnation.

V3 says it's completed a production prototype, meaning that independent testers may at some point be able to assess the company's claims with some hardware in hand. Until then, we'll put the CoolSpin in the "wouldn't it be nice?" file.


For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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