Solar Panel Efficiency Breakthrough – With Balloons

Using concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) technology and high efficiency photovoltaic cells derived from satellite technology, a group of scientist and researchers claim to be able to generate the same amount of electricity as traditional flat solar panel systems while using up to 300 to 400 times less solar cell material. 

The Cool Earth system works uses metallized plastic films to concentrate sunlight and air to form a mirror shape – effectively, a solar panel encased in a balloon. The inflated balloon is extremely lightweight and robust enough to survive 200 km/hr winds. The system is design to rely on cheap, readily available materials such as wood, stamped-steel galvanized components, plastics and mylar.

The result is a solution that generates clean, renewable energy at a price competitive with that of natural gas power plants, with an ultimate goal of achieving price parity with coal fired generation. When the company begins production in quantity,  they believe their system will be at a price point of a dollar US a watt – a home solar power system costs around 7 – 8 dollars per watt in the USA currently. 

Initially, Cool Earth is focusing on building utility-scale solar power plants that can provide 10 to 30 megawatts; which is enough to power a small city, so we’re not likely to see the technology available for residential solar power systems anytime soon. Unlike traditional concentrated photovoltaic farms, the Cool Earth solution is suited to a variety of landscapes and according to the company, a farm covering 240km by 240km would generate enough enough electricity to meet the needs of the entire United States up until 2030.