Matt and Sean discuss light focusing solar panels, what sets apart Stanford’s AGILE concentrated solar panels, and what Matt regrets not including in the Undecided video about the tech.
Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, “This Invention Could Supercharge Solar Panels”: https://youtu.be/ytdWAKgPyI0?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi4dFnLD9622FK77atWtQVv7
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As usual, I’m Sean Ferrell. I’m a writer. I write some sci-fi. I write some stuff for kids. And I’m also curious about technology and where it’s taking us. And luckily for me, my brother is Matt of undecided with Matt Ferrell. And that’s why we’re all here to talk about his videos, his discussions of tech breakthroughs and changes in our daily lives.
And Matt, how.
I’m good. It’s been a good weekend. How about you?
Not too bad. I’ve been beset by allergies of an unknown source. So yeah, that’s always exciting. Like what a lovely day. My eyes are on fire before we get into the newest episode, which we’re gonna be talking about in a few minutes and that’s about solar panel breakthroughs.
I wanted to share some thoughts from our most recent episode, this was our discussion on desalinating technologies. And there was this from Richard Papworth who at the end of last episode, I said, Matt, so what do we have coming up next? And you said, well, in the future, we’re gonna be talking about fusion.
mm-hmm and Richard Papworth showed up and said, I hope the fusion video is at least an hour long. There are so many companies doing it in different ways. There’s a huge amount of info to convey. So. Matt. You’ve got your work cut out for you. Yes, I do. there’s also this comment from driller dev. Sorry, if I’m repeating myself or if this is the result of some condition, Sean, but if the color difference between your face and your neck is the result of sunburn.
Matt should buy you a new hat for your birthday. Yes. And driller, I’ll be honest. I have no idea why my head and my neck are different colors, the way they are for anybody who’s listening to this, as opposed to watching it. I think I just basically have a pretty nice tan on my face. And that’s despite the fact I wear sunscreen and a hat all the time, but my neck, no, my neck, she is not tanned.
She is very pale. So it does create an interesting, is he wearing a Mardi GRA mask or what’s going on? Nobody’s ne nobody’s. Sure, but thank you for weighing thriller. You need the uniform paleness of me. yes, there is that too. I mean, it’s, it’s I think I, I maybe spend a little bit more time outside than Matt and yes.
You know, it’s anybody who’s looking at just the video right now. I mean, I mean, look at the space behind.
I I live in a cake.
It is very dark. And there was this comment from real foggy who had this to say, hope my comments get read sometime good show after the show. Thanks for reading the comments. You’re welcome.
Foggy. And look, you did it.
But as I mentioned before, we’re gonna be talking about Matt’s most recent episode. This is from September 13th, 2022. It’s from the episode title, this invention could supercharge solar panels and it is basically a lens effect that helps capture more sunlight. And there was a lot of discussion around what this could do and how it would impact the technology and correct me if I’m wrong.
This technology. Is in some cases, there are some starting, uh, levels of this technology that are currently in use. Yes. Oh yeah.
Yeah. Concentrated solar is not anything new. It’s been around for decades. Right. And there were commenters that pointed that out. This is nothing new. Yeah. Concentrated solar as a genre of technology is well established and has been tried and oftentimes failed.
This is a new take. A new
entrant into the field for this. And what makes it a new entrant? What is the, what is the element here that is different from what exists before? It’s the
structure of how it concentrates the light. Several people pointed out Fornell lenses, which is something that’s really old technology.
It’s been around for a very long time. Right. But you can take it Fornell lens and put it on top of a solar cell and concentrate the light too. But
the thing is, is like we’re
Fornel lenses like. The, the cone or the, the radius that it can pull light in from to concentrate. It is much narrower than what this new one, this agile structure does.
It’s a much wider area that it can concentrate light from versus a Fornel lens. And it’s, it’s the way that they’ve, it’s an actually graded. System that little pyramid shape, the weight reflects the light down. That’s the new thing on top of which of how it’s manufactured, cuz they’re looking at this as being 3d printed, which makes it a very easy cost effective way to manufacture it.
So they’re kind of tackling two things, a new way that they’re concentrating the light. The design of it is new as well as the manufacturing technique being applied to do it is what they’re, they’re hoping is the secret sauce to make this a more affordable.
Mass producible way to do concentrated solar.
Yeah. It seems like there’s the major breakthroughs that people read about as the Eureka. And then there are advancements like this, which are still advancements, but dimension break the mold. It’s an improvement upon. The earlier what came before? Yeah. The earlier thing, it’s all iterative. It’s
like, it’s all iterative.
You come up with a, you have the Eureka moment and then there’s all these things that come after that Eureka moment, trying to make that thing better, make it so that you can scale it up, that you can mass produce it. It’s all those things have to happen after that initial Eureka. And so this is like somewhere along that line,
that’s where this falls.
Yeah, there was a little bit of pushback by one comment, or I saw, and I didn’t, I didn’t record their comment to use it as a direct reference, but their, the gist of their comment was effectively. There’s always this conversation around the improvement of the tech, but then when you see the price points, it’s always higher and outside the range of common usage.
And I wanted to bring that up simply as a that’s part of the normal pattern. You know, you have this advancement and a change. And then eventually as economies of scale, kick in, once more people are utilizing that tech, it becomes cheaper than manufacturer and manufacturing becomes more precise and more experience in manufacturing leads to a drop in price.
just look at, look at solar panels and batteries. Just look at the prices of what it costs for lithium ion batteries 20 years ago, and the same thing for solar panels 20 years ago, versus what they are today, it’s night and day. It’s because of the rapid advancement and understanding of how to manufacture these things with less loss in the manufacturing process, to be better at it, to be, have a higher, you know, instead of having to throw away 30% of what you’re manufacturing, you’re throwing away.
5% of what you’re manufacturing. So it’s like, it just, all of it just drops the costs, which makes it more affordable for mass market. All of this stuff starts expensive and then can, if it works out, work its way down. So it’s, can they
do that? That’s the big question, right? It also, the price point also is affected by competition.
And if there are competitions from a number of other sources, That forces solar to figure out, well, how do we compete? That helps drive down the cost. And the one that always like the model that always stands out for me is VCR. The VHS and beta max. Yeah, the whole competition between two technologies, one of which was arguably better.
It was the loser in the race simply because the other one was able to beat the price enough. And then by the end of the cycle of V VCR’s being the means with which we recorded television and, and kept it in our homes. You could go out and get a new VCR for about 25 bucks. I remember dirt cheap. It felt a little bit like if you bought two boxes of corn flakes and sent in the box tops, they’d send you a free VCR for your trouble.
it was like giveaways with happy meals at McDonald’s, that kind of thing. And it was ridiculous how much they cost when they first came out. And that’s, that’s kind of, to me, I always keep that in mind. Like that’s the life cycle of pricing that’s starts off. It’s gonna be. Exorbitantly expensive. And obviously outside of the realm of most people, and then over time, it drips into the mainstream and becomes something that we can budget around.
And then once competition starts to show up and for VCRs, it was of course DVDs and digital, and suddenly the bottom fell out and you could pick these things up for nothing. So, and that’s, you know, all to say. I think that there’s a day, not necessarily right around the corner, but as Matt has talked about in previous videos, the solar market is a growing used solar panel market.
Mm-hmm alongside new technology like this. So 15 years from now, if you’re thinking about putting solar on your home and it doesn’t have solar right now, you could go with the newest tech, which is probably gonna cost you quite a. You could go with tech that’s being developed right now in 2022, which might be these panels at a used cost, which would be a lot less.
Or maybe you even go with panels that are a model that’s being produced from. 10 or 15 years ago, but they may still be making them, but they may be so dirt cheap at that point. Yeah. That it may not cost you much more than the tiles on your roof. So we’re gonna see a number of different tiers. There will be in 15 years, that bottom tier, which is this technology is 30 years old, but it still works and it might meet your needs.
So exactly. Yeah.
And this, and, and to on this agile thing specifically, It may never, ever catch on because they’re maybe competing like the beta max VHS thing. There might be a VHS model that comes out, beats them to the punch, cheaper. It’s more efficient to produce. And it just kind of cuts the legs out from under something like this.
So, yeah. There’s so many things that in play that you, I, I do not wanna predict what’s gonna be the winner and a loser here, but it’s, it’s a fascinating invention that thought was worth looking
at. Yeah. You mentioned agile and it made me. Jump ahead to this comment that I wanted to share from Shane Wilson.
And I’ve actually seen this technology in action and it is. Very basic, very straightforward does the job mm-hmm but Jane weighs in with this. Agile is a classic idea used on sailing vessels in the form of deck prisms. It’s amazing how much sunlight is brought below decks from a few square inches of flat glass on a deck panel.
It makes perfect sense that charismatic techniques could be applied to solar panels. Yeah, I’ve been there where you go below deck on a, on a sailing vessel and you’re like, why is the. Shining so brightly in this room and it’s all because of a little tiny square in the ceiling. Yeah. That’s simply conducting sunlight.
Yep. Also in the comments I wanted to share this one from Paul Mullen, who wrote, I worked on a similar technology in my research lab around eight years ago. The main benefit of a low concentrator photovoltaic PV is increased efficiency at suboptimal angles. The numbers were often muddy. You can get twice the energy per square meter of PV panel.
Sure. But when you ultimately use less PV panel, as a lot of room is taken up by the concentrator, then it’s a moot point. The biggest limiting factor is that the greatest degradation factor for PV panels is their operating temperature. When you concentrate the sunlight, they will get hotter causing them to degrade faster.
Our research was specifically looking at ways to extract thermal energy from a domestic scale, solar concentrator. This was one to cool. The panels, two to extract some thermal energy for hot water tank pre-heating and three to prolong the life of the panel. It was ultimately not deemed cost-effective.
You could double or triple the life of the panel, but you have massively increased your installation cost. So it would likely be cheaper to replace the panels every 10 to 15 years. It’s I think a really great breakdown of yes. What companies like agile have been up against and trying to figure out how do we make this work?
The, the, the fact that your square footage of the panels changes as a result of the. Conclusion of a prism is just the first headache. And it’s not even the biggest one. I love the fact that it brings up, like you’re heating up your panels twice. You’re getting twice as much light, twice as much heat. So it’s like all of these things adding, adding, adding to the complication of all this.
Okay. There there’s, there’s
three things. I, I remember re I read that comment when it was posted. There’s three things about that comment. I love one. I love it when people that are actually working on technologies like this chime in, in the comments, drop in their knowledge and firsthand experience doing it.
I, I freaking love it. The second thing is he brought up an aspect. I should have touched on the video. And for me, this is a huge failure. In my opinion of my video. I didn’t talk about the heat aspect. At all. And I should have, because heat is not good for, uh, solar cells. It affects their efficiency. It affects their longevity.
And I should have brought that up and talked about it in the video because it does short their lifespans. And there is the complication of you sometimes. Ways to get around that is they try to cool the panels with cooling systems. So there can be additional complexity depending on what you do to try to, to do that.
But it’s it’s. So for me, I was, I saw a bunch of comments about that. What about the heat? And it was like, oh no, I should have talked about the heat in the
video. And just didn’t let me weigh in with this comment, which is almost a different direct response to Mr. Mullen, kitty Catt. Jumped into the comments as a separate comment, not in response to Mr.
Mullin. Yeah. But jumped in separately to say something I find incredibly interesting is how this system could be a part of a design, which integrates these and the negative space they provide in between the solar cells for very small, very high efficiency, thermal conduits that whisk away the concentrated heat from the reflective materials and many cells being further connected to a home heat pump system.
So this is something that. You’ve got the person saying, Hey, there’s an issue. And then you’ve got a person saying, Hey, I think I’ve got another add-on now kitty cat’s idea. What I love. One of the things I love about this, it taps into my sci-fi writer brain, and I envision a house that has just. Coils and tombs and worly gigs and SMBA jobs and all sorts of little things and do hickeys popping out on the side.
Steampunk. House’s just, just a total steampunk house, but it’s a normal nuclear family. Like, you know, dad’s coming home from work, he’s got his PIP and he is, got his little hat and he is like, hello, dear. How was your day? And she’s like, well, the thing I Maji just popped against, you’re gonna have to get up on that roof and fix it.
And he is like, oh, Like, I just love the, the idea of these, like how so strange in this way with all these little tubes and, and, uh, things to take up. I love the fact that it’s taking up the negative space between the solar panel cells like use every square inch, make the technology work for you. Yeah, but
one other thing that I think with Paul brought up, which was, it just wasn’t worth it based on what his experience was because of additional cost and complexity.
I kind of did touch on that in my video. When I was talking about the part of the reason I brought up the whole. The tilting systems is because when you look at the numbers for like what it costs to do, one of those versus just slap a panel on a flat, you know, fixed structure, it usually doesn’t work out that great, because you can add a few extra panels to make up for the lack of efficiency that you get with the tilting systems, not in all cases, but in some cases.
So it kind of touches on what he brought up, which. It, this system may not make sense in all situations, right. It may have very isolated, unique use cases. So that’s something else to keep in mind. So many, I gotta say there were so many smart comments in on this video. I was very impressed. Yeah.
Do you think this might be a technology that’s largely found well above and below the equator as opposed to being.
Uh, something that might be in a majority of, of city cities that are within a certain band around the equator, maybe normal panels are gonna be perfectly fine. And the price point wouldn’t be an issue, but if you’re further north or south, you know, maybe in Alaska, they might need something like this because there’s just not gonna be enough daylight.
Otherwise it could make sense. That’s
part of the reason I was interested in this cuz where I live. The swings over the course of the year on how much energy I can produce is pretty massive just because of how low the sun gets in the sky during the winter. It’s like, if you had systems like this, it could basically just help to kind of maybe potentially counteract some of that and reduce the, the massive drops you
see in the middle of winter.
Right. It introduced an interesting detail that I hadn’t considered before that the panels on your roof might not be parallel to the roof. It hadn’t occurred to me that you would have yeah. Potentially panels that would be mounted with an incline. I see panels here in the city that are on flat roof buildings.
You know, in my neighborhood up brownstones are over the place and the panels you can tell are tipped. And it makes sense like, well, it’s a flat roof and they wanted to get an angle that would help it. Hadn’t occurred to me that if we were further north, the incline would be even steeper. And if you had a tilted roof, you might even need further tilt depending.
On how far north or south you are. So it’s, it’s an interesting, uh, complication to, to see in action and to think about how it might be changing the profile of homes of people who might be putting these on. Yep. So listeners, what do you think about the future for panels like this? And what do you think about the price point for panels like this?
Do you see, like I suggested multi-tier markets where you have all sorts of options ahead of you and if so, what price point would you be jumping in on? Are you holding out? Uh, as Matt is always saying, don’t hold out for a future when you’ve got something today, but are you thinking yeah, five years from now, I want the top tier or are you thinking I’m waiting for.
Market to become flooded with all these used panels that are gonna be coming out and I’m gonna scoop up some, some things that still have 15 years of life. Let us know, jump into the comments, share your thoughts. Don’t forget if you’d like to support the show, you can review us on apple, Google, Spotify, wherever it was.
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