Improving Solar Energy Mirror Array Performance Under Windy Conditions
Company Name: Skysun, LLC
Program Office: Solar
Location: Bay Village, OH
Award Amount: $275,000
Project Term: 12 months
Project Status: Active
Participating Lab(s): Sandia National Laboratories
Solar panels are often entirely stationary, meaning they can only passively collect solar energy as the Earth rotates on its axis and orbits the sun. Seasonal variation in solar energy at a given site means there is often an advantage in solar systems than can change the direction panels face. Similarly, many solar installations utilize mirrors to reflect solar energy onto panels or other collection sites and those mirrors are often moveable, too, giving operators greater flexibility for maximizing the power produced at a given site. Reducing the costs of these mirror systems can make solar energy increasingly cost-competitive with other electricity sources.
Skysun, LLC, is working to develop what it considers a potentially disruptive solar collector, which relies on an array of carefully arranged mirrors, which the industry refers to as “ganged heliostats.” The collector has the potential to drastically reduce both component and installation costs. However, the company faces challenges modeling its technology with high-fidelity and evaluating the performance of its prototype system. This project will rely on Sandia National Laboratories’ advanced modeling capabilities to better understand and refine the system.
PROJECT INNOVATION + ADVANTAGES
Typical heliostats require each mirror to have its own base, foundation and motor. Skysun’s combination of patented and patent-pending technology gangs together many heliostats to share motors and support structure instead. The design has the potential to greatly reduce system infrastructure and installation costs. Prior funding from an Innovation Fund A grant has enabled Skysun to develop its technology from design to prototype. Additionally, collaboration with NASA’s Solar Collector Laboratory at its Glenn Research Center has helped prove the design’s durability. Previous tests have also shown that the design can achieve industry-expected accuracy with wind speeds of 15 to 20 miles per hour. Further modeling conducted through Sandia will help advance the project along its path to commercialization by helping Skysun evaluate methods for reducing the degree to which wind affects the mirrors’ accuracy.
Reducing the cost of solar installations will make this energy source increasingly cost-competitive with alternatives, including fossil fuel energy. Utility-scale solar plants in sunny areas already deliver electricity far below the average local grid costs. As the costs of these systems decline, utility-scale solar can become an increasingly attractive option for power providers in more areas, helping to foster job growth in manufacturing, construction, installation and maintenance.
Operating utility-scale solar is carbon emissions-free and bringing new solar energy online is one of the chief ways the United States can meet its climate goals over the coming decades.
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