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Solyndra's Thin-Film Solar Cells Draw $1.2 Billion In Orders

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the beaming-down-upon-them dept.

Power 131

SolarSells writes "Solyndra makes funky-looking cylindrical solar cells that resemble compact fluorescent lightbulbs. Their products are meant for office buildings, and are made from a thin coating of copper indium gallium diselenide on glass tubes. Although they might not be able to fill them till 2012, the company has already received $1.2 billion in orders. Their manufacturing tricks make the cells so cheap that they may be competitive with other forms of power even after solar subsidies are phased out."

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Bright idea (3, Funny)

Smivs (1197859) | more than 5 years ago | (#25286955)

Look like fluorescent lights? Great, just install one next to each lamp and it can power itself. Oh, hang on, that won't work, will it? DOH!

Re:Bright idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25289743)

Perhaps you could install them in the directions you don't need light (or maybe just use them as wallpaper...expensive wallpaper) to make the lamps more efficient.

Re:Bright idea (1)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 5 years ago | (#25290325)

Or paint your walls white. Or cover them with mirrors.

Glass tubes? (3, Interesting)

bdenton42 (1313735) | more than 5 years ago | (#25286961)

So a good hailstorm will demolish your solar array?

Re:Glass tubes? (5, Insightful)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 5 years ago | (#25287101)

Just like they demolish your home's windows, and your car's windshield....

Re:Glass tubes? (2, Interesting)

bdenton42 (1313735) | more than 5 years ago | (#25287225)

If those tubes are as thick as my cars windshield that would be fine... but I'm guessing they are not.

As far as my home's windows they would certainly be a lot more vulnerable to hail if they were also mounted horizontally.

Re:Glass tubes? (0, Redundant)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 5 years ago | (#25287769)

Just like they demolish your home's windows, and your car's windshield....

Are they just as cheap to replace?

Re:Glass tubes? (2, Insightful)

ApharmdB (572578) | more than 5 years ago | (#25288127)

Since when are home windows and car windshields cheap to replace?

Re:Glass tubes? (1, Insightful)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 5 years ago | (#25288619)

The windshield does not represent the majority of the value of the car, nor do windows represent a majority of the value of the home, such that you end up buying a new car or new home every hail storm.

Solar cells do represent the majority of the cost of solar cells, though, so hail damage basically == full replacement. IOW, they have to completely pay themselves off between hail storms to break even*

*if they are insufficiently protected from the elements, that is.

Re:Glass tubes? (2, Insightful)

Skrapion (955066) | more than 5 years ago | (#25289481)

The windshield does not represent the majority of the value of the car, nor do windows represent a majority of the value of the home, such that you end up buying a new car or new home every hail storm.

I don't know about you, but I'd rather pay for the full replacement of a drinking glass than pay to have a windshield replaced.

Whether or not it's a full replacement is a pretty meaningless distinction.

Re:Glass tubes? (1)

SevenHands (984677) | more than 5 years ago | (#25291337)

The article states that these solar tubes can be constructed from metal also...

Not likely (1)

mbessey (304651) | more than 5 years ago | (#25291793)

I'd think that metal tubes would make it hard for the light to reach the active coating on the inside. Their tubes doi have metal end caps, though...

Re:Glass tubes? (2, Interesting)

Erioll (229536) | more than 5 years ago | (#25287131)

Very true, but there are also a lot of places in the world (and even in the USA) where hail is virtually unknown, so for those markets it'd work.

But yes, that definitely wouldn't be where I live, as we get hail multiple times per year. Those things would get massacred up here.

Re:Glass tubes? (0, Flamebait)

Hairy Heron (1296923) | more than 5 years ago | (#25287907)

Yeah because no one probably ever thought of putting protection up for these solar arrays for situations like that. Good thing we had you around so that you could point out this problem that no one else in the rest of the world ever thought of.

Re:Glass tubes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25294187)

Very true, but there are also a lot of places in the world (and even in the USA) where hail is virtually unknown

For now.

Re:Glass tubes? (1)

ozphx (1061292) | more than 5 years ago | (#25287285)

Hey, I've got an idea. We'll put whatever crap we put over existing solar panels above them?

Bet nobody thought of that ingenious trick!

Some thicker glass... coming out the top of the array there. Oh yeah that looks really good. Check out all its MAJESTY.

Re:Glass tubes? (2, Funny)

chill (34294) | more than 5 years ago | (#25288203)

Meh. Thicker glass will still break. Try plywood. We use it to cover windows in hurricanes and big storms and it works great!

Re:Glass tubes? (0, Redundant)

GodKingAmit (1192629) | more than 5 years ago | (#25289049)

Sounds like a good idea to cover solar cells with plywood.

What's the optical transparency of playwood again?

Oh wait.

Re:Glass tubes? (2, Funny)

Muad'Dave (255648) | more than 5 years ago | (#25289147)

Call Scotty - he's got the bloody formula for transparent plywood on his Mac Classic.

Re:Glass tubes? (1)

chill (34294) | more than 5 years ago | (#25289271)

*whoosh*

"That there's a joke son! You're supposed to laugh! Went right by ya!" -Foghorn Leghorn

Re:Glass tubes? (1)

Skrapion (955066) | more than 5 years ago | (#25289657)

What on Earth are you talking about? People don't leave plywood on their windows after the storm passes, so why are you assuming they would leave it on their solar cells after the storm passes?

You should probably try to say something intelligent if you're going to be condescending to somebody. Not being condescending at all is another good option.

Re:Glass tubes? (1)

Khyber (864651) | more than 5 years ago | (#25290381)

Glass eats light. Covering a solar cell with glass reduces its efficiency. I've had to prove this time and time again in gardening forums with light meters and varying panes of glass. Even "clear" glass isn't truly clear.

I'd rather use something with more optical transparency, like Lexan.

Re:Glass tubes? (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 5 years ago | (#25290467)

A sudden hailstorm looks like it would be a problem -- you'd lose a number of tubes. However, if you have time to respond... I would like to think the tubes are sturdier than they look. It does appears the tubes have endcaps not unlike the single pin flourescent tubes. A maintenance team could pull the tubes in advance of an approaching storm system and put them into protected storage, then re-insert them once the storm was past.

Re:Glass tubes? (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 5 years ago | (#25291319)

I'm sure you could mount something up there like what they use to close some shop doors/windows - like Venetian blinds but made of metal. Flip a switch and a motor deploys the shield. Flip the switch back and it retracts the shield. Or, you could do it the old fashioned way of a chain-pulley system.

Re:Glass tubes? (4, Informative)

solyndra08 (1380533) | more than 5 years ago | (#25292467)

I work as a process engineer Solyndra, I don't know if it is right for me to comment on this or not, but fighting bogosity is my hobby. Of course we did hail tests, I was involved. We shot homemade hail iceball out of a painball gun at our panels and confirmed that they could survive. Our panels have already been through hailstorms around the world. No tube breaks due to hail.

Re:Glass tubes? (1)

GaryOlson (737642) | more than 5 years ago | (#25294153)

We shot homemade hail iceball out of a painball gun at our panels...

That sounds like too much fun to get paid...

Did you happen to increase the mass of the projectile till you actually broke a tube? One time, a less than competent machinist rammed a large machine tool into a very large material chuck spinning at 5000 RPM. A 15lb steel clamp block ejected thru the "safety glass" window, thru the false ceiling, and thru the roof to land on the building next door. Would your tubes have survived such an industrial mishap? (just curious)

Good (4, Insightful)

Eddy Luten (1166889) | more than 5 years ago | (#25286967)

It's good to see that people still invest in alternative sources of energy. $1.2B in pre-orders can't be bad and (I think) shows a great sign of faith in these technologies.

Re:Good (0)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 5 years ago | (#25287163)

It's not investing.

"Their manufacturing tricks make the cells so cheap that they may be competitive with other forms of power even after solar subsidies are phased out."

These babies can't compete without the government giving them an advantage.

Re:Good (1)

Tim Doran (910) | more than 5 years ago | (#25287603)

Right - unlike the mainstream energy sources (oil, coal, nuclear) which toil day in and day out, competing to power our lifestyles without any love from the government.

Re:Good (4, Informative)

OldeTimeGeek (725417) | more than 5 years ago | (#25288187)

Yeah, it's not as though nuclear power [tradewatch.org] or oil [cato.org] or coal [nytimes.com] companies have come to the Congress with their hands held out, is it?

Re:Good (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25289379)

Nope, it's just that solar and wind get an order of magnitude more subsidies, and a shitton less regulation.

Re:Good (1)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 5 years ago | (#25291225)

Who doesn't ask for money from congress?
I'd be willing to fund something that exists, is proven, and powers the damned country more than I'd be willing to fund some pie-in-the-sky never-fulfill-our-promises alternative form of energy.

The alternative forms of energy gets TONS more money anyway, with far less regulation, and almost ZERO requirement of actually doing anything useful.

Re:Good (1)

b0bby (201198) | more than 5 years ago | (#25291729)

The alternative forms of energy gets TONS more money anyway, with far less regulation, and almost ZERO requirement of actually doing anything useful.

From this:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_Policy_Act_of_2005 [wikipedia.org]
I'd say that Nuclear & fossil get $7.1 billion, while all renewables + conservation get $7.4 billion; not tons more, and not an order of magnitude as the AC above suggests.
If the charts on this page are to believed:
http://nextbigfuture.com/2008/09/us-energy-subsidies-updated.html [nextbigfuture.com]
then the share of money over the period 1950-2006 devoted to renewables comes to 6%.

Re:Good (1)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 5 years ago | (#25292855)

The vast majority gets less than the small minority.
What sense does that make?

Nuclear and fossil deliver.

Measure that shit in net $/kWH delivered, and then we'll talk.

Re:Good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25287883)

Can anyone say 'American closed market'?

Or better yet - one of you lopsided 'Free trade agreements'?

Re:Good (1)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 5 years ago | (#25288123)

These babies can't compete without the government giving them an advantage.

Just like fossil fuels wouldn't be able to compete if their external costs were appropriately assigned to them, and nuclear power couldn't compete if plant operators had to buy liability insurance at actual market rates.

Re:Good (1)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 5 years ago | (#25291205)

Fossils fuels currently have no real competition, silly. Nor would they have if they had cost 10 times what the did during the industrial revolution.

Please, show me how you would appropriately assign their external costs to them.

Liability insurance? Market rates?
Insurers would compete to insure a nuclear plant. It's safe, clean power. Insurers compete using tons of statistical data and analysis.

Men pay more for car insurance even though statistically women are worse drivers. Men end up paying more because, statistically, the average man drives more miles/hours than the average woman, and this end up winning out. Insurance companies DO compete. Rates for men and women have been converging (more so in auto than in health so far) due to woman driving more, working more, getting sick more, etc.

Re:Good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25291783)

Not sure if your "statistic" is true, I guess you just believe it because you like it, but even if it is, it is irrelevant. Insurance rate is based on the amount you'll probably cost to them. They don't care about the "why".

A little bit more to the point you were replying, the most important of those external costs is not insurance, but problems associated with pollution, particularly for oil. Those problems go from simple health problems to everything related to global warming. That means from more frequent destructive extreme weather to future war that will be caused because of water problems due to weather changing (or simply for war because of need for oil in the first place).

My guess is if oil companies had to pay for those cost (according to their share of responsability) instead of governments, solar power and about every other clean energy would be a lot cheaper than oil.

Re:Good (1)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 5 years ago | (#25291933)

Please, show me how you would appropriately assign their external costs to them.

Well, for starteers, assign most of the cost of our military to oil, since their main job is to keep volatile parts of the world stable enough to ship oil to us.

Then, assign the cost of cleaning up mercury pollution in most of the nation's lakes and treating a good percentage of repiratory illnesses to coal.

The list goes on and on, and that's not even assuming that serious climate change scenarios may transpire. If you allow for those, multiply everything above by orders of magnitude to cover the costs of either huge catastrophes or massive geoengineering fixes.

Of course all of that is hard to quantify, but it doesn't change the objective reality that large external costs exist which are not currently being accounted for.

Insurers compete using tons of statistical data and analysis.

Apparently, they did this analysis and then concluded only the government would dare underwrite the astronomical potential liability risk for a nuclear power plant. At any rate, if a few foreclosures can bankrupt the largest private insurer in the USA, then there's no way in hell that any private firm could cover the losses of a worst-case nuclear accident or sabotage scenario. There would never be any payout, which reminds me of the old Monty Python skit about the guy who was refused payment for loss of his car because he had bought the "No Claims Policy".

Re:Good (1)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 5 years ago | (#25292877)

Well, for starteers, assign most of the cost of our military to oil

I stopped reading there.

Nutjob confirmed.

bottom-up power (5, Insightful)

xappax (876447) | more than 5 years ago | (#25286983)

"What Gronet envisions is solar panels installed on your average Home Depot or Ikea, generating a substantial percentage of the company's power needs right on site."

This is the best possible outcome of the energy crisis: an efficient, sustainable, and most importantly decentralized power infrastructure. Let's hope these technologies really do take hold.

Re:bottom-up power (1)

rufus t firefly (35399) | more than 5 years ago | (#25287137)

This is the best possible outcome of the energy crisis: an efficient, sustainable, and most importantly decentralized power infrastructure. Let's hope these technologies really do take hold.

Amen. I want to see a decentralized power infrastructure as much as anyone... Would also mean that EVs [slashdot.org] would be a bit more practical, assuming we roll out better energy storage technologies [slashdot.org] at the same time.

Some companies do this already (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25288601)

I don't know if it supplies all the power needed, but some big-box type places do have solar setups - like Kohl's:

http://www.ecogeek.org/content/view/621/ [ecogeek.org]
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0EIN/is_/ai_n27971502 [findarticles.com]

disclaimer: I work in Kohl's IS dept.

Whole lotta "ifs" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25287033)

If Gronet and his team can work out the manufacturing challenges and navigate the difficult financial waters, their unique design and tightly focused business model could lead them to profitability, even after government subsidies in Europe phase out.

Hey, that's great. Good luck with your company and all. But there is way too much "maybe" in this story to make me jump up and down with excitement.

Who bought em? (2, Interesting)

Gertlex (722812) | more than 5 years ago | (#25287063)

Aside from hype about "competing with other power sources" (it's old hype... I can't quite give a damn if it's for real or not this time), I wonder what the distribution of their clients is... (mainly by nationality)

And I'd bet this number predates the economic crisis... I do wonder how many of these orders will be withdrawn; though I'm sure it won't be enough to slow Solyndra's production at peak capacity.

Re:Who bought em? (1)

Anonymous Monkey (795756) | more than 5 years ago | (#25287967)

So the power grid is kind of like the poor family that can only afford a busted money pit of a car to get dad to work and back. It is always needing repairs, and ends up costing more in the long run than just buying a new car. But with out being able to get enough cash together for the new car you are stuck with the rust bucket.

Link? (5, Informative)

rufus t firefly (35399) | more than 5 years ago | (#25287095)

Obligatory link [solyndra.com] to manufacturer.

oblig. (0, Offtopic)

Rob T Firefly (844560) | more than 5 years ago | (#25287123)

Can I use a series of these tubes to power my big truck?

Re:oblig. (2, Funny)

ozphx (1061292) | more than 5 years ago | (#25287397)

Ten big trucks running off that, that tube, and what happens to your own personal tube? I just the other day got... a tube was switched on by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday. I got it yesterday. Why? Why? Because it got tangled up in a big ball with all the trucks going on the tube commercially.

They want to deliver vast amounts of power from the tubes. And again, the tubes is not something that you just dump anything on. It's not a big internet. It's a series of wires. And if you don't understand, those wires can be filled and if they are filled, when you switch your lights on, it gets in line and it's going to be delayed by anyone that puts onto that wire enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material.

Nanosolar (5, Interesting)

scorp1us (235526) | more than 5 years ago | (#25287125)

While were slashvertising, let's not forget Nanodsolar [wikipedia.org] which also does thin-film copper indium gallium diselenide trick. But it seems that instead of tubes, you can just get a sheet (on what appears to be a Mylar substrate).

I wonder about the cylindrical shape, this would seem to block 50% of the surface area, where the sides and underside would produce less electricity than a flat sheet of the same area.

Re:Nanosolar (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25287233)

I wonder about the cylindrical shape, this would seem to block 50% of the surface area, where the sides and underside would produce less electricity than a flat sheet of the same area.

Well it means that part of each cylinder is always more-or-less directly facing the sun without being moved/rotated in some way, plus you could always put a white or reflective material underneath the cylinder racks to reflect a a good portion of the missed light onto the underside of the cylinders.

Re:Nanosolar (1)

cpotoso (606303) | more than 5 years ago | (#25287451)

Nevertheless, a simple geometrical argument shows that it is ALWAYS more efficient (less amount of material used) to have a flat panel (if correctly oriented then so much better). The cylindrical shape must be a requirement of manufacturing, and they are trying to sell it as a good thing, but it is obviously not.

Re:Nanosolar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25287789)

The cylindrical shape must be a requirement of manufacturing, and they are trying to sell it as a good thing, but it is obviously not.

Assume much?

Yes, if the goal was to coat the roof with a material, a flat coating would clearly be more efficient.

But that's NOT the goal. The goal is to generate the most possible power. I'm sure surface area contributes to power delivered, but it's not necessarily the only factor.

Consider the angle at which a photon enters the solar generating material. What if a material works best when the angle is close to perpendicular to the surface of the solar material? Still think a flat plane is clearly best?

Re:Nanosolar (3, Interesting)

Jeanius (1369311) | more than 5 years ago | (#25287927)

This link [technologyreview.com] says the cylindrical shape contributes to better solar absorption throughout the day, and offer less wind resistance. Looking at the picture in the article, they seem to be more like half-cylinders. That'd make sense, that while geometrically they don't have their face optimally pointed towards the sun at some optimal point during the day, they're continually pointed at the sun with some constant exposed amount of surface area.

Re:Nanosolar (1)

Jeanius (1369311) | more than 5 years ago | (#25288085)

Sorry, they *effectively* look to be more like half-cylinders.

Re:Nanosolar (2, Interesting)

idontgno (624372) | more than 5 years ago | (#25289325)

Which, by some miracle, don't need to be steered. They are magical half-cylinders which always point at any available light source. And, for whatever reason, you seem to be deliberately ignoring the value of reflecting light back from beneath the cylinders. So, effectively, they looks like self-steering half-cylinders plus the other half cylinder gathering "waste" light.

Don't underestimate the value of "don't need to be steered". Eliminating those moving parts and the associated control automation shaves a huge amount off of installation and maintenance costs. And the lower profile is also pretty useful (wind resistance, aesthetics, clear lines of sight for other things like satellite dishes).

Remember: the intended application of this technology is rooftop static PV systems, a retrofit application. Steerability is not a factor; the panels are going to just lie on the roofing. The cylindrical design means that a portion of their surface is always almost tangential to the incoming sunlight, maximizing conversion there. A flat panel has less local peak efficiency unless it's steered and sun-tracking, which is not the application in question.

Really, this sounds like a good compromise for moderately effective PV generation in rooftop retrofit applications.

Re:Nanosolar (1)

idontgno (624372) | more than 5 years ago | (#25289601)

And, for whatever reason, you seem to be deliberately ignoring the value of reflecting light back from beneath the cylinders.

And by "you", I mean those in this thread who are ignoring the value of reflected light on the underside of the cylindrical collector. Not "you", Jeanius [slashdot.org] . I don't think I'm arguing with you, although I responded to your post.

Damn comment threading system making me hassle my own side.

Re:Nanosolar (1)

Jeanius (1369311) | more than 5 years ago | (#25289807)

No offense taken. I was referring to the link I posted previously, in that they looked effectively like half-cylinders due to them being mounted almost flush with the roof. They would need to be steered, although their cylindrical shape would reduce the need for highly robust mounts to counteract the wind. And they wouldn't need to be steered as drastically in all directions since they're facing the sun constantly.

Re:Nanosolar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25288023)

Actually, the cylinder is cheaper and more efficient, if you put a parabolic reflector underneath to concentrate the sunlight on the backside. Solar cells actually get more efficient if you use highly concentrated light, and this arrangement allows for rather expensive exotic but small and efficient cells to be used to convert the light from a comparably larger area.

Re:Nanosolar (1)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 5 years ago | (#25287681)

Slashvertiseing? They're 4 years backed up on orders. I don't think they care right now about getting new ones.

Re:Nanosolar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25288897)

More orders = more profit potential = more venture capital = more money for the CEO to walk away with when it flops. Note that they aren't actually shipping a product yet.

Color me cynical, I guess.

Re:Nanosolar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25287767)

The idea is to have the cylinders relatively broadly spaced and they will pick up reflected light off the roof as well.

Re:Nanosolar (1)

eagee (1308589) | more than 5 years ago | (#25287939)

Hey and let's not forget Global Solar either, because they produce thin-film coppe... oh wait... that's right... the article mentions both of them... slashvertising indeed...

Re:Nanosolar (2, Interesting)

Actually, I do RTFA (1058596) | more than 5 years ago | (#25288611)

I wonder about the cylindrical shape, this would seem to block 50% of the surface area, where the sides and underside would produce less electricity than a flat sheet of the same area.

It seems counterintuitive, but if you do the calculus, it ends up being equivalent. You get more surface area, but with less direct angle of incidence (assuming the plane is perfectly aligned), so that it exactly balances out. And you have to do less repositioning.

There's a name for the principle that states it generally, but I forgot it. I just remember having to walk my friend through the math two years ago when it came up in their physics class.

Re:Nanosolar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25288953)

Ah yes, but this is a series of tubes...

I don't get it (2, Interesting)

wonkavader (605434) | more than 5 years ago | (#25287153)

They're letting valuable light past. They're getting a little of it back on the rebound. The round design means some of the cell is always straight on to the sun, but it's a VERY small part.

Wouldn't a flat roof of the same material be much more efficient?

Re:I don't get it (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25287263)

I don't know the answer. But I am certain that such questions never occurred to the two Stanford engineering PhDs who founded the company, or the tens more they have subsequently hired to do R&D.

too be fair (1)

Technopaladin (858154) | more than 5 years ago | (#25290653)

NASA has hundreds of PhDs and they did a bang up job on Skylab and Mars probe.
But I agree with you for the most part.

Re:I don't get it (1)

andy19 (1250844) | more than 5 years ago | (#25287417)

I'm sure putting some sort of highly reflective material directly under the tubes will help increase the efficiency of the tubes.

Ted Stevens Comments on Solar Cells (1)

Spatial (1235392) | more than 5 years ago | (#25287709)

I just the other day got, a solar cell was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday and I just got it yesterday. Why?

Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the roof commercially.

So you want to talk about the consumer? Let's talk about you and me. We use this solar cell for power and we aren't using it for commercial purposes.

We aren't earning anything by going on that solar cell. Now I'm not saying you have to or you want to discriminate against those people. The regulatory approach is wrong. Your approach is regulatory in the sense that it says "No one can charge anyone for massively invading this world of the solar cell". No, I'm not finished. I want people to understand my position, I'm not going to take a lot of time.

They want to deliver vast amounts of power over the solar cell. And again, the solar cell is not something you just dump something on. It's not a truck.

It's a series of tubes.

And if you don't understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your power in, it gets in line and its going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of energy, enormous amounts of energy.

Re:I don't get it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25287567)

I think the idea is that it would be more efficient some of the time, and some of the time it would be less efficient. I didn't see any numbers comparing actual efficiency to similar products, but I'd be surprised if something that's both harder to manufacture (and thus more expensive) and less efficient would be marketable.

Re:I don't get it (3, Insightful)

bigmo (181402) | more than 5 years ago | (#25287735)

It may be that the tubes are used with concentrating reflectors, so that the back side is in fact the highest output and the front side is just a little extra from the direct illumination. The tube design would also allow a fluid to be circulated to pick up any heat gain that would go along with the concentrating reflectors.

Re:I don't get it (1)

ruin20 (1242396) | more than 5 years ago | (#25289659)

Solyndra's cylindrical solar modules collect sunlight more efficiently across a broader range of angles and catch light reflected off the roof itself

Plus it seems like these are MUCH cheaper to produce per unit than standard wafer based PV. Essentially there's a coating system applied to the tube and then just a pressing of an adapter on either end. However I will state, according to the article, they may become more cost efficient than other conventional power options, they are not there yet as they aren't getting optimal yield out of the PV technology.

The advantage they have is this is very producible, and scalable. It's much easier to tap into a tube than a flat sheet and if you place a reflective coating on the roof, you should mitigate any losses due to form factor quite nicely.

So what do they cost? (1)

AnotherBlackHat (265897) | more than 5 years ago | (#25287161)

Nice to know that these "may be competitive with other forms of power even after solar subsidies are phased out."

Any idea what the unsubsidized cost per watt is today?

-- Should you believe authority without question?

Re:So what do they cost? (1)

ozphx (1061292) | more than 5 years ago | (#25287493)

Australia is around 18c/kWh peak. The grid will buy back power at that rate.

The government provides a subsidy of $8/Watt up to 1kW for solar installations. If you net negative useage for a billing period, the total buyback is doubled.

These new tech CGID panels (and theres a few manufacturers) cost around $1/watt. I think around $3-4 a watt is break-even, but a realistic economic analysis (I could invest in an oil company and get say 9% return), was suggesting around $2 a watt. (Theres fudge factoring for weather/night included here).

So yes, these are in fact a better buy than paying your power company, in Australia. Don't think you can call up the Solar Shop though - those bastards are still pimping the shitty ones.

Re:So what do they cost? (3, Informative)

jbeaupre (752124) | more than 5 years ago | (#25288145)

In essence, solar costs about $.30/kwh. http://www.solarbuzz.com/SolarPrices.htm [solarbuzz.com] Location is important. Costs more in Germany, less in California. http://www.solarbuzz.com/statsCosts.htm [solarbuzz.com] . This competes against under $.10/kwh in the US for other sources. But there are variations around the world and even within the US http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epm/table5_6_a.html [doe.gov]

Is this for real? (3, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | more than 5 years ago | (#25287349)

The Solyndra tubes have me puzzled.

First, they're round, with the active surface uniform around the tube. So only a fraction of the active surface is doing much. Unless they can make active surface far cheaper than anybody else, this is a lose.

The claimed advantage of this approach is supposed to be that the units can be mounted flat to the roof. But you can do that with flat solar panels; it just costs you about 30% of the output because you're not getting max sun input per unit area. Solyndra is paying a bigger oblique penalty than that; they're probably losing 60% over a flat panel pointed roughly at the sun.

Their web site has no numbers on prices, costs, efficiency, output per unit area, or third party test results. That's a bad sign.

Re:Is this for real? (2, Interesting)

Mr._Galt (608248) | more than 5 years ago | (#25287781)

The claim on the site is that the cylinders can harvest indirect and reflected light as well. Conventional panels only use direct light. Therefore a horizontal mount is optimum for these cylinders since they will receive some direct light any time of day while still receiving reflected and indirect light. They also show how you can cover vastly larger areas with their cells because of the way they are mounted and designed to handle wind loads. The increase in coverage should more than make up for any loss of direct light. Of course, all this assumes that they are not big fat liars.

Re:Is this for real? (3, Interesting)

smellsofbikes (890263) | more than 5 years ago | (#25287893)

Since mirrors are cheap compared to solar cells, wouldn't it make more sense to mount these tubes at the focal point of a linear/parabolic mirror? That really seems exactly what these were designed for, not just harvesting off-axis light.
What am I missing here? Doesn't it seem like this is the perfect answer to a question they don't seem to have asked?

Re:Is this for real? (1)

idontgno (624372) | more than 5 years ago | (#25289519)

Focusing mirrors have to be actively steered (Sun-tracking). Steering is expensive and more maintenance-intensive than a bunch of tubes just lying there. Ultimately, that's overkill for a "slap it up on the roof" retrofit application.

OTOH, an underlayment of flat mirrors would serve as a nice "second chance" enhancement, getting photons that lucked out and missed the surface of the cylindrical collector the first time past.

If we're not talking about a static installation, I don't think the "cylindrical collector, steering mirror" system has much advantage over "flat steerable collector" system.

Re:Is this for real? (1)

Urkki (668283) | more than 5 years ago | (#25290137)

Mirrors with focal points need to follow the sun. That's moving parts. Moving parts are not good, they cost money and they break down and they are more complex to install. Even if installation cost of no-moving-parts solution is a bit more, you'd still want to take it over a moving-parts solution.

Re:Is this for real? (1)

EEthan (1353209) | more than 5 years ago | (#25292675)

If you read the article, it mentions that the system is designed to harvest light that is reflected off the roof of the building, which is probably being lit by the spaces between the tubes.

On that note, however, concentrating solar power systems do exist (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concentrating_solar_power#Concentrator_photovoltaics) Note that many concentrated solar power plants don't use photovoltaic cells at all. Many just focus sunlight to boil water for a steam turbine or to run a stirling engine directly.

If this were a perfect solution, it would probably be implemented more often. My guess is that the cost and complexity of making a giant parabolic mirror, or a lot of flat tracking mirrors, outweighs the increases in efficiency. Also, imagine the maintenance costs on a field of electromechanical solar tracking mirrors or on a parabolic mirror that needs to be wiped down every so often.

Also, the chances of blinding/cooking alive passers-by with your giant parabolic mirror if your tracking system dies are probably too great for comfort.

damnit, now i want a giant parabolic mirror.
come on, how cool would that be?

Re:Is this for real? (1)

mysticgoat (582871) | more than 5 years ago | (#25289145)

So long as the Sun is up, a properly oriented tube will always have a thin line with perfect angle of incidence to the Sun, and a region somewhat less than half the tube's diameter that has a pretty good angle of incidence. Over the course of the day, the amount of surface area that is in excellent to good relationship to the Sun's rays is nearly constant, and if the tubes are spaced optimally, this area is nearly as large as that which a flat panel array of the same size would provide. Plus, the tube is self-supporting, so there are minimal shading losses from structural support, and it can capture reflected light from its backside. Any comparison of flat panels with tubes needs to take these factors into account.

Over the course of a day, I can see where the light gathering ability of a static array of tubes would be comparable to the light gathering ability of a static array of flat panels. The output curves would be very different: the flat array would have a much higher midday peak, but the tube array would begin producing output earlier in the morning and continue for longer into the evening.

Re:Is this for real? (1)

pz (113803) | more than 5 years ago | (#25289207)

But -- they gain hugely compared to standard flat panels in structural rigidity for the same amount of material.

As mentioned on their web site, the tubes are far more wind tolerant than large panels. Also remember that just because a solar cell isn't pointing directly at the sun doesn't mean it completely loses efficiency -- it primarily loses efficiency because it's not getting as many photons striking the surface as if it were oriented correctly.

A good comparison on how much insolation they'll catch is to imagine a single long sheet of flat solar collector the length of one of their tubes, and the same width as the diameter of the tube. Then, you'll need a mechanism for maintaining ideal positioning by rotating about the long axis. And, you'll need to make it two-sided to catch the reflected energy.

And now, make the comparison: the two systems will obtain approximately the same insolation (the rear flat panel in this thought experiment will be somewhat less efficient than the Solyndra equivalent, but let's assume it will be as efficient -- doing it correctly will only help the Solyndra argument). The Solyndra tubes will be far more rigid for the same thickness of base material. They won't need a steering mechanism. They might or might not be easier to manufacture.

And the penalty for these advantages (dredging out the old highschool geometry) is ... pi x D / 2D = about 1.6 more active material for the same insolation.

So, it's an engineering tradeoff, given the constraint of making a more wind-tolerant solar panel that is more-or-less long and thin, you have 60% higher coating and base material costs because you're making tubes rather than (long) flat panels, plus whatever additional manufacturing costs that might or might not be different for making tubes vs sheets, and you gain in not having to provide a steering mechanism. Of course, as stated above, this is assuming you want to capture a given insolation.

I can easily see it being a design worth investigating. I can also see, as other posters have pointed out, that it would make emminent sense if you were to combine these tubes with long parabolic reflectors. And, come to think of it, these will still have decent residual power generation even when it has snowed, due to the reflected capture -- a flat panel will lose far more collection efficiency when covered in snow.

Moreover, since the idea is non-obvious, they'll have good patent protection and therefore an ideal marketing position. Exclusive, strong, cheap, wind tolerant, still works when covered in snow -- no wonder they're booming.

Re:Is this for real? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25290931)

The sun isn't always overhead, so as the sun moves from one horizon to the other, the tubes will always have a face perpendicular to the sun, assuming they are installed in a North-South manner.

I would assume that this will allow them to generate more during the morning and evening hours, when your typical flat panels are no longer pointed at the sun.

Re:Is this for real? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25293841)

My guess is that the circular shape is some how invovled in the manufacturing process.

Hail (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25287583)

one word: hail

Re:Hail (1)

jameskojiro (705701) | more than 5 years ago | (#25288055)

Another word, Plastic acrylic tube covering these solar tubes, or wire mesh installed above them....

Tube Independance (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25287701)

We already get our internet through a series of tubes. Do we want our electricity the same way?

is people?! (3, Funny)

DirkGently (32794) | more than 5 years ago | (#25287777)

There has to be some way to tie together "Solyndra" and "green" and "is people". Step up the puns here, people.

Re:is people?! (2, Funny)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 5 years ago | (#25289621)

There has to be some way to tie together "Solyndra" and "green" and "is people".

Solyndra green is people.

There ya go. Not sure what your difficulty was, actually.

Re:is people?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25289649)

Soylent Green?

Re:is people?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25292823)

Solyndra Green Power (is)/(to the) People!

Put windows in the roof. Get the sunlight direct! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25288097)

Right, so instead of designing warehouse shops with skylights to let light in, they make sure they have opaque roofs and build them extra strong to carry the extra load of all those solar panels... to power the lighting units inside the warehouse shop.

Great! What will they think of next.

Ted Stevens would be proud (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25288901)

So, basically, this power source is a series of tubes?

waaaaay too much funding (1)

nietsch (112711) | more than 5 years ago | (#25289421)

If you read the article you might get a positive impression about these guys, but when you look at their picture gallery, it is clear these guys have had waaaay too much money to play with. Robots everywhere, it looks like a car manufacturing plant. Autonomous vehicles that transport the goods around? What is wrong with their hands, are they all engineers afraid to get their hands dirty? Robots may look very cool, and may be cheaper than humans in the long run. But if you are just starting up, won't real humans be much more flexible?

Re:waaaaay too much funding (2, Insightful)

cowscows (103644) | more than 5 years ago | (#25290149)

If you've already got 1.2 billion dollars in orders, you can probably throw a little bit of money towards automating your production line. And while I don't know much about the specifics of this particular product, solar panel manufacturing is generally a fairly high precision activity, and often involves raw materials that aren't the most healthy substances for humans to be around. A nice, clean, automated production facility is ideal for solar panels.

This isn't a couple of guys who started a business out of their garage last week. They've already done the bulk of the messy design work, and they're moving on to mass production. They're probably still doing more of the hands-on design work as well, but it likely happens in a whole separate building from their factory.

On the off-chance that you're not kidding... (1)

mbessey (304651) | more than 5 years ago | (#25291917)

Their manufacturing plant is a former hard-disk factory. Which makes sense, since much of the coating equipment and the material-handling equipment would be similar. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that some of their equipment was pulled out of storage from the former factory owners for pennies on the dollar.

Some of the robots might be strictly for the gee-whiz factor, but given that they're trying to make a new technology economical, automating production as much as possible is just good sense.

Re:waaaaay too much funding (1)

LeadSongDog (1120683) | more than 5 years ago | (#25292715)

To get local government subsidies most places, you need to promise to spend them locally. Otherwise those pesky shareholders will want you to spend them where they get the most ROI (even if it's taxpayer's "I". No politician wants to go up for re-election explaining why a shuttered factory was built with taxpayer dollars. So the companies build a cheap building full of expensive movable equipment and call it an expensive facility. Then when it suits their purpose, they relocate the equipment to another tax administration. It's an old story.

...that resemble compact fluorescent lightbulbs. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25289677)

I hate to nit-pick, but here it goes:

When I hear "compact fluorescent lightbulb" I think of a small spiral shaped tube [wikipedia.org] .

When I see these solar cells, I think of a long T12 fluorescent lamp [wikipedia.org] .

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