IBM's New Solar Collector Power System (HCPVT) Could Power The Earth

Imagine a power system that could harness the energy of 2,000 suns and provide fresh water and air conditioning in remote locations.

Not only that but it would be completely renewable, be able to provide the entire world's energy supplies and only take up two per cent of the Sahara Desert's land area.

IBM have announced they are to develop a High Concentration PhotoVoltaic Thermal (HCPVT) system that could do just that.

The system can deliver electricity, fresh water and cool air in remote locations

The potential for solar power has long been known, with a 2009 study predicting it could supply all the world's energy needs with minimal space.

Until now the systems, which work by concentrating the sun's rays onto energy collecting cells, have not been efficient enough to fulfil this potential.

Harnessing the heat necessary would simply fry the photovoltaic chips on traditional solar panels.

The new technology will use a "micro-channel cooling system", the same used in IBM's supercomputers to keep them cool enough to function.

"Each 1x1 centimeter chip can convert 200-250 watts, on average, over a typical eight hour day in a sunny region," IBM says, estimating the cost per square meter to be about $250, once they are made in large enough numbers.

Andrea Pedretti, CTO of Airlight Energy, one of the collaborators on the project, said: "The design of the system is elegantly simple.

"We replace expensive steel and glass with low cost concrete and simple pressurized metalised foils."

In the HCPVT system, instead of heating a building, the 90 degree Celsius water will pass through a porous membrane distillation system where it is then vaporized and desalinated. Such a system could provide 30-40 liters of drinkable water per square meter of receiver area per day, while still generating electricity with a more than 25 percent yield or two kilowatts hours per day. That is a little less than half the amount of water the average person needs per day according to the United Nations**, but a large installation could provide enough water for a small town.

Remarkably, the HCPVT system can also provide air conditioning by means of a thermal driven adsorption chiller. An adsorption chiller is a device that converts heat into cooling via a thermal cycle applied to an absorber made from silica gel, for example. Adsorption chillers can replace compression chillers, which contain harmful working fluids, with water eliminating any impact on the ozone layer.

A prototype HCPVT is currently being tested in Switzerland.