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Self-Tracking Concentrator Photovoltaics

Glint Photonics

Self-Tracking Concentrator Photovoltaics

Program: 
ARPA-E Award: 
$2,723,044
Location: 
Burlingame, CA
Project Term: 
04/01/2013 to 03/31/2017
Project Status: 
ALUMNI
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 

Photovoltaic (PV) solar electric systems are a growing clean energy alternative to traditional sources of electricity generation, such as coal-burning power plants. One of the biggest obstacles to the widespread deployment of PV systems is the fact that they are rarely cost competitive with conventional sources of energy generation. New PV technologies must improve solar energy conversion efficiency while driving down costs in order to make them broadly competitive with traditional power generation methods and help position the U.S. as a leader in the global renewable electricity industry.

Project Innovation + Advantages: 

Glint is developing an inexpensive solar concentrating PV (CPV) module that tracks the sun's position over the course of the day to channel sunlight into PV materials more efficiently. Conventional solar concentrator technology requires complex moving parts to track the sun's movements. In contrast, Glint's inexpensive design can be mounted in a stationary configuration and adjusts its properties automatically in response to the solar position. By embedding this automated tracking function within the concentrator, Glint's design enables CPV modules to use traditional mounting technology and techniques, reducing installation complexity and cost. These self-tracking concentrators can significantly decrease the cost of solar power modules by enabling high efficiency while eliminating the additional costs of precision trackers and specialized mounting hardware. The concentrator itself is designed to be manufactured at extremely low-cost due to low material usage and compatibility with high-speed fabrication techniques. Glint's complete module costs are estimated to be $0.35/watt-peak.

Potential Impact: 

If successful, Glint's low-cost solar power module will bring CPV technology to building rooftops.

Security: 

Cost-effective solar energy would increase U.S. renewable energy use and help reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

Environment: 

Replacing energy systems powered by fossil fuels would provide an immediate decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, of which electricity generation accounts for over 40%.

Economy: 

Cost-effective renewable energy alternatives would reduce electricity rates for consumers. Integrating these renewable technologies directly into buildings will reduce stress on the electric grid.

Innovation Update: 
(As of March 2017) 
Through the progress made during Glint’s ARPA-E award, the team has developed a light delivery strategy based on discussions with lighting industry experts, refining and vetting the company’s design to minimize cost and address potential customer concerns. This has led to a $1.08 million follow-on award from the Building Technologies Office within the Department of Energy. Glint will use this award to continue advancing its technology towards a commercial-ready product, fully integrating all components of the light collection and delivery system and optimizing performance. Product introduction into the market will be performed in collaboration with several U.S. contract manufacturing firms to fabricate and assemble the daylighting system domestically. Technoeconomic analysis of the team’s design indicates that the cost for system installation will be comparable to tubular daylighting devices and an order of magnitude less expensive than existing commercial products with trackers.

The Glint team sought to improve sunlight capture through a low-profile tracking system using a novel optical design. Its initial capture design featured a single lens array and a fluidic optical system. However, after modeling work, the team discovered fundamental limitations with this design and instead redesigned the tracker based on a catadioptric optical system that uses both reflective and refractive optics to access a large range of incident angles, up to about 60 degrees off axis. This system uses an active microscale tracking scheme that adjusts the position of an array of reflective optics at the foci of the reflective back lenses. A closed-loop control system actively adjusts the position of the coupler array throughout the day to follow the sun’s movement. Glint has performed a number of tests on individual components and has worked on light transmission and delivery methods compatible with low cost, attractive installations. The team found that hollow reflective light pipes to be the most advantageous, as they do not attenuate the transmitted spectrum, have high optical efficiency, and are designed to fit within wall spaces. The company’s innovation was made possible through the coupling of newly available, inexpensive precision molded optics with Glint’s novel optical design.
 
For a detailed assessment of the Glint Photonics project and impact, please click here.


Contacts
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Michael Haney
Project Contact: 
Dr. Peter Kozodoy
Partners
University of California, Berkeley
Release Date: 
11/28/2012