German architect André Broessel, of Rawlemon, has looked into his crystal ball and seen the future of renewable energy. In this case it’s a spherical sun-tracking solar energy-generating globe — essentially a giant glass marble on a robotic steel frame. But this marble is no toy. It concentrates both sunlight and moonlight up to 10,000 times — making its solar harvesting capabilities 35 percent more efficient than conventional dual-axis photovoltaic designs.
André Broessel was a finalist in the World Technology Network Award 2013 with the globe’s design and afterward produced this latest version, called Betaray, which can concentrate diffuse light such as that from a cloudy day.
In reality, though, it’s a stand-alone solar energy generator. And if nothing else, it’s much more interesting to look at than your standard photovoltaic solar panel.
But Broessel’s invention may be more than just aesthetically pleasing. According to a recent report in Fast Company, the German architect touts his orb-like system as being 35 percent more efficient than a standard panel, doing even better when combined with a tool for tracking the sun.
“For the last 40 years we have tried to capture this energy with PV panels,” Broessel says in the promotional video on his Indiegogo campaign for his company, Rawlemon. “But the earth is moving around the sun, and the fixed panel is losing its efficiency.”
The rotating glass orb, he says, brings in energy from the sun and concentrates it onto a small surface of tiny solar panels. The ball lens is able to concentrate and diffuse light on one small focal point, making it more sustainable (less material used to create solar cells, most of which are made from crystalline silicon) and more efficient. Additionally, Broessel says poor weather would not impact the device, because of a built-in weather tracking system.
“We can squeeze more juice out of the sun,” Broessel says.
In terms of whether the device will actually bring meaningful improvements to the renewable energy sector to reduce the effects of man-made climate change, the outlook seems promising on its face. The amount of energy solar panels can derive from the sun is low compared to the energy that the sun can actually produce — some only convert about 20 percent of their available energy into electrical power — so a device that can better concentrate the sun’s energy would be surely welcome. And, as Stanford University’s associate director on energy and sustainable development Mark Thurber told the Wall Street Journal back in April, “the most intriguing renewable energy technologies are those that have the most room to improve.” In terms of solar, he said at the time,“perhaps concentrating solar power can make significant strides as we learn from the first large installations.”
Broessel’s device is not yet available in the market. He is trying to raise $120,000 on his Indiegogo campaign for further testing, and for patent applications he’s filed in five jurisdictions. You can watch his promotional video below.