Could this be the future of solar power?

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Have you ever used a magnifying glass to concentrate the rays of the sun onto a single spot and start a fire? If you haven’t, then you will probably have still heard of the technique.

One German inventor is taking that idea to a whole new level as he tries to secure crowdfunding to improve his invention – a giant marble that concentrates the rays from the sun to focus on a small back panel of photovoltaics. Sound like something out of a science fiction movie? Indeed it does.

But many concepts from science fiction have become reality – just watch Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey 2001 and you’ll get the drift. You should never take things at face value on the Internet and this is why we decided to look into this concept featured on The Smithsonian Mag.

Solar rays can be concentrated onto smaller panels

Andre Broessel, inventor of the Beta Ray
Andre` Broessel

Andre` Broessel from the future tech energy startup Rawlemon might just be onto something with his zany crystal ball idea. It looks like exactly that, a crystal ball on mounts, but it also tracks the sun to allow for optimal harvesting of rays and it also works at night, apparently.

Broessel claims his invention concentrates sunlight and moonlight by up to 10,000 times, which he calculates as being 35 % more efficient than existing conventional dual-axis designs.

It might all sound far-fetched, but Broessel made it to the finals of the World Technology Award with his concept design and has now created an improved version called the Betaray, which can also harvest energy on cloudy days.

It looks pretty neat too and is certainly an improvement on today’s photovoltaics aesthetics. The prototype is installed at his Barcelona apartment, which is where Rawlemon is also based. Broessel’s device is not yet available in the market. He is trying to raise US$200,000 on his Indiegogo campaign for further testing, and for patent applications he’s filed in five jurisdictions. The project has been ongoing since 2014 and is still in development.

Watch the Beta Ray explainer

In his promotional video, he says: “For the last 40 years we have tried to capture this energy with PV panels. But the earth is moving around the sun, and the fixed panel is losing its efficiency.”

Broessel says that the fact that the contraption concentrates light onto a single point makes the whole idea of solar panelling much more sustainable because you need far less crystalline silicon for the solar cells.

The Beta Ray can harvest moonlight
The Beta Ray can also harvest moonlight

“We can squeeze more juice out of the sun,” Broessel said.

The German inventor is concentrating on home power devices, but also believes that his idea can work for mini desktop chargers to power phones, laptops and perhaps even television sets and appliances.

On the surface, his idea seems to be viable. Solar panels cannot harvest the whole amount of light produced by the sun, with some models managing to convert 20% of it into energy which can be stored or used or sold into the grid.

If his numbers are correct, then the invention of a contraption that is 35% more efficient than a traditional model will surely be a boon.

Scholar believes solar wild cards could offer incredible opportunities

Whacky ideas can often deliver the best results – just ask Albert Einstein. Stanford University’s associate director on energy and sustainable development Mark Thurber told the Wall Street Journal that we really should be on the lookout for wild cards. He said: “The most intriguing renewable energy technologies are those that have the most room to improve. Continued incremental improvement in wind and solar PV technologies should keep adding up over time, but the fact remains that these technologies have been around for a long time and are comparatively mature.”

He continued: “More surprises may come from wild cards with which there is less experience. Perhaps concentrating solar power can make significant strides as we learn from the first large installations.”

Crazy or brilliant? The idea certainly seems to hold water, but it now depends on whether Broessel can get the funding to bring his idea to life in a commercially viable manner. This could be the future of solar power generation.

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