Tech Watch

There is a lot of exciting innovation and new technologies being developed in the field of clean/green energy. The Better Planet's Tech Watch is a gallery of some of the companies, inventions and technologies that are pushing the envelope with alternative energy and could make a big impact. Would you like to nominate an invention or company for our Tech Watch list? Contact us at info@thebetterplanet.com

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  • Freescale Semiconductor
    Freescale Semiconductor, which is a privately held company based out of Austin, Texas, is a supplier of power management circuits....

  • Tendril Residential Energy Ecosystem (TREE)
    Tendril, a Colorado based smart grid start-up company, is a provider of demand-side power management ...

  • SolFocus 1100S CPV
    The new 1100S Concentrator Photovoltaic (CPV) from SolFocus uses reflective optics to concentrate sunlight onto solar cells where the sunlight is magnified...

  • SmartGrid
    For a project called the "Wind-to-Battery Project", Xcel Energy, which provides electricity to over 3 million customers in the western and midwestern United States, has selected GridPoint Inc's SmartGrid...

  • GreenVolts CarouSol
    GreenVolts is a San Franciso based company whose Concentrating Photovoltaic (CPV) system is currently being installed in it's first large scale commercial project...

  • Solar Updraft Tower
    Think of a solar updraft tower as a "solar smokestack" or "solar chimney". A tower is surrounded by a field of collectors that...

  • Windbelt
    Inspired by the 1940 collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington, inventor Shawn Frayne designed what he dubbed the Windbelt. With a goal of providing cheap power to third world nations...

  • RawSolar
    RawSolar is a start-up company founded by MIT students. Their invention is a type of solar dish that uses mirrors to form a parabolic shape that concentrates the sun's rays onto a single point...

Freescale Semiconductor

By The Better Planet Staff

Freescale Semiconductor, which is a privately held company based out of Austin, Texas, is a supplier of power management circuits. At the Applied Power Electronics Conference and Exposition, Freescale unveiled their new low voltage DC to DC converter integrated circuit which can boost the efficiency of solar panels. The increased efficiency will come from allowing solar panels to operate at lower voltages and this is particularlly important when several solar panels are networked together. If some of the solar panels that are linked together are not producing electricity due to lack of sunlight, Freescale's converter will let the other panels continue to operate by letting them run at a lower voltage.

Freescale's power converter will make numerous other solar applications possible in the future because the lower startup threshold of their integrated circuit will make it possible to charge cellphones, laptops and other small devices with a single solar cell.

Freescale's power converter will be available in the 3rd or 4th quarter of 2009. For more information, visit the Freescale Semiconductor web site.

Tendril Residential Energy Ecosystem (TREE)

By The Better Planet Staff

Tendril, a Colorado based smart grid start-up company, is a provider of demand-side power management technologies. The company's product, Tendril Residential Energy Ecosystem (TREE), is helping to bridge the gap between power companies' electrical systems and residential homes, by letting the two systems communicate with each other. TREE uses Zigbee based devices connected in an in-home smart grid system along with custom software to let the home network communicate with the utility company.

Tendril offers basic products that let home owners monitor their energy usage, to more advanced solutions that let the power companies communicate with in-home meters. To further the usage of their products, Tendril also offers an application programming interface (API) to their software and devices so that third party companies can develop software that can work with Tendril's products. This is the same concept that is used in software development and with Internet applications, and puts the company in a good position to benefit from the innovations of other companies. By offering an API and following the OpenADR standard, Tendril is simplifying the development of third party applications and shortening the time to market.

What sets Tendril apart from other companies is that it is focusing on the residential homeowner, not the utility companies. TREE allows homeowners to monitor and control their energy usage with a simple installation that they can perform themselves. Utility companies also benefit because it gives them greater insight into energy usage and flexibility with controlling usage.

For more information on Tendril, visit the Tendril website.

SolFocus 1100S Concentrator Photovoltaic (CPV)

By The Better Planet Staff

The new 1100S Concentrator Photovoltaic (CPV) from SolFocus uses reflective optics to concentrate sunlight onto solar cells where the sunlight is magnified 500 times from the original incoming sun rays. The solar cells used by the 1100S system use only 1/1000th the material of photovoltaic cells, which reduces costs, and are also much more efficient. The 1100S uses a tracking system to follow the sun's movement throughout the day to maximize the system's performance.

SolFocus 1100S Concentrator Photovoltaic (CPV)
Image credit: SolFocus.com
In November of 2008, SolFocus signed a lucrative $103 million deal with EMPE Solar in Spain to install CPV solar in multiple locations in the country. The projects will total more than 10 megawatts and when completed in 2010, will be able to provide electricity to 40,000 residents.

For more information, visit SolFocus.com.

SmartGrid

By The Better Planet Staff

For a project called the "Wind-to-Battery Project", Xcel Energy, which provides electricity to over 3 million customers in the western and midwestern United States, has selected GridPoint Inc's SmartGrid software platform to control the flow of power from the electric grid to NGK Insulators' sodium-sulfur batteries which stores energy harnessed from the wind. The GridPoint platform will provide realtime monitoring of the grid and control the charging of the batteries and when to discharge electricity to supplement the grid.

The Wind-to-Battery Project will utilize an 80 ton battery that can power 500 residential homes for up to 7 hours. The energy will be generated from an 11 megawatt wind farm owned by Minwind Energy LLC in Luverne, Minnesota and GridPoint's SmartGrid platform will control the flow of energy into the storage batteries. SmartGrid will monitor the battery's performance and also store power off-hours when prices are cheaper and sell back to the grid during peak demand.

This is the first large utility scale project for GridPoint and is expected to be complete in January 2009. For more information, visit GridPoint.com.

GreenVolts CarouSol

By The Better Planet Staff

GreenVolts is a San Franciso based company whose Concentrating Photovoltaic (CPV) system is currently being installed in it's first large scale commercial project. The project, dubbed "GV1", is a 2 megawatt installation being built on 21 acres in California. Scheduled to open in 2009, the project will provide power to a nearby housing community of 8,000 residents and will help to prove the commercial viability of GreenVolts' technology. GreenVolts has signed a 20 year agreement with Pacific Gas & Electric to use the power generated from the GV1 facility.

GreenVolts CarouSol
Image copyright © 2008 GreenVolts
The centerpiece of the project is GreenVolts' CarouSol which uses optics to magnify the sun's rays hundreds of times and concentrate them on to solar cells. The CarouSol consists of multiple "Power Pack" units which contain the reflectors, optics and solar cells. The CarouSol moves on 2 axes to track the sun and produces 3 kilowatts.

The low profile design of the CarouSol (19 feet in diameter, 38 inches in height) helps protect the unit from wind damage and also avoids the need to be permanently mounted to the ground, thus reducing installation costs and minimizing it's effects on the environment. The CarouSol has a conversion efficiency of greater than 20% and can produce greater than 500 mega-watt hours per acre per year.

Currently, the CarouSol is intended for installations that are at least 1 megawatt and is not for residential use. For more information, visit the GreenVolts website.

Solar Updraft Tower

By The Better Planet Staff

Think of a solar updraft tower as a "solar smokestack" or "solar chimney". A tower is surrounded by a field of collectors that trap hot air (similar to a greenhouse) and the movement of the hot air up through the tower moves a pressure-staged turbine (or multiple turbines) to produce electricity. The slope of the collectors (which are typically a membrane, glass or plastic) slowly rises as it approaches the tower to help facilitate the movement of the hot air. The area of the collector and the height of the tower both contribute to the power generating capacity of the system.

The Better Planet The system can also be modified to produce power during the night by storing the heat inside the collector so that it can be released during the night. Water filled black tubes and stones can be used to accomplish this.

The first prototype, a 195 meter high updraft tower, was built in Spain in 1982, but was destroyed by a storm 7 years later.

Advantages:
-Inexpensive material costs.
-Constant supply of power during the day.
-No fuel related operating costs.


Disadvantages:
-Is approximately 1/10 as efficient as solar cells.
-Can consume a large area of land.
-Does not convert all of the solar energy into electrical energy.


Windbelt

By The Better Planet Staff

Inspired by the 1940 collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington, inventor Shawn Frayne designed what he dubbed the Windbelt. With a goal of providing cheap power to third world nations, Frayne's company, Humdinger Wind Energy, is using the phenomenon of aeroelastic flutter to power turbine-less generators to generate electricity from the wind.

The Windbelt stretches a membrane between the two ends of a frame with a pair of magnets attached to the membrane. The pair of magnets are surrounded by metal coils. As wind blows over the membrane it causes it to "flutter", thus causing the magnets to oscillate between the metal coils. The movement of the magnets between the metal coils then generates power.

Humdinger is currently working on micro, medium and large scale versions of the Windbelt. While the Windbelt can't generate as much power as a large wind turbine system, we see great potential for the Windbelt in residential applications.

RawSolar

By The Better Planet Staff

RawSolar is a start-up company founded by MIT students. Their invention is a type of solar dish that uses mirrors to form a parabolic shape that concentrates the sun's rays onto a single point. Water is fed into a collector at the point where the sun's rays converge and is instantly turned into steam which can be used to power a turbine. The light that converges at the collection point is 1000 times more intense than the light coming in and a tracking system is used to align the dish with the sun throughout the day. The RawSolar dish uses standard materials and is easy to manufacture at a low cost. The affordability of the system is a definite advantage, but we consider the need for a constant supply of water to be a drawback.

For more information, visit RawSolar