Heliotube Solar Concentrator

The LA based company Practical Instruments is developing a new solar panel technology which focuses the Sun’s light more effectively into the photovoltaic cell. The Heliotube, the rooftop solar panel developed by the company uses several small motors together with directional lenses to track and focus the Sun’s light thought the day.

Concentrator solar technology which uses optics to increase the output of solar panels is nothing new. Several companies including Energy Innovations in Pasadena and Pyron Solar in San Diego have been developing this technology for several years now, but the Heliotube is unique since it was designed to be a rooftop application rather than a product for the utility market like many other concentrator solar panels.  

One of the main advantages of concentrator technology is cost. Heliotube substitutes much of the costly photovoltaic material with inexpensive optics to focus the equivalent light onto small solar cells. The main drawback might be reliability. The Heliotube uses small motors which, like any mechanical part, fail after a certain amount of time (especially in outdoor conditions). Interestingly the panels are warranted for 20 years which should relief any fears of malfunction. 

Each Heliotube panel measures 65” (165 cm) long, 44” (112 cm) wide and 6” (15 cm) high. It weights 50lbs (22 kg) and is rated at 177 Weq, 2.5 amps at 70 Volts typical.  And can be connected directly to the grid.  

The Heliotube should be available for purchase sometime this year and although no pricing has been disclosed, Practical Instruments CEO Brad Hines sad in an interview last year that the company is planning to have an installed cost of 3 dollars per watt of power (with the rebate in California), which should be competitive with conventional forms of electricity.

More information can be found on Practical Instruments’ website.

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