Energy is arguably the most important problem of the 21st century. Solar energy is by far the most abundant of all renewable energy resources. For many purposes, concentrating solar radiation is required for every solution. Our group studies and employs thermodynamic and optical efforts and techniques for concentrating and converting this radiation into useful energy.
The solar concentration research area of the UC Merced Mechanical Engineering Graduate Group applies our solar concentration technologies to the areas of daylighting, solar thermal and photovoltaic to provide energy solutions to the world’s domestic and global needs.
Research focusing on the development of concentrating systems for solar photovoltaic devices began at UC Merced in 2005. Through both funding and collaboration with public and private organizations, our research has led to the development of products that are currently entering the marketplace. These concentrating devices greatly enhance the efficiency of photovoltaic cells and permit the use of lower-cost materials in the fabrication of solar cell devices.
To develop truly competitive photovoltaic systems, the cost of generating power must approximate or fall below the cost of generating the same amount of power utilizing existing conventional large-scale electric power generation technologies. Research at UC Merced addressing solar concentrators will contribute significantly to reducing the costs associated with photovoltaic power generation, hopefully leading to a wider application of the technology.
In addition to developing advanced technologies for the photovoltaic industry, UC Merced is also contributing its expertise in the training of solar technology researchers for the future. Our graduate research program is healthy and vigorous, and participation in the research program by undergraduates is strongly encouraged.
Our group employs the principal of thermodynamically efficient concentrators to produce temperatures up to 400°F without tracking. This system is scalable and can run year-round with low maintenance and has a competitive materials cost with conventional fuels. Exciting applications of this system include: coupling with an evaporator-chiller cooling system, sterilization, high-temperature operating systems, large-scale water heating as well as many other domestic and industrial applications.
You are probably reading this, sitting in a room, illuminated by several conventional lights -- which are all consuming an abundant amount of energy -- with the sun glaring outside. Our plan is to bring the free sunlight from outside inside. Using our solar-concentration technology, we can direct daylight into buildings.
Our approach first concentrates the sunlight, then coveys the light in optical light pipes. This mitigates the problems associated with skylights and other types of large openings in buildings. This light is also both cool and safe by removing the infrared and UV rays. A 1-inch diameter light pipe is equivalent to a 100-watt light bulb. Our system would allow for an array of 100 of these light pipes on a single tracker.
This provides us with a comfortable and harmonious-soft natural daylight-which, studies and research have shown, helps improve the general health, reduces depression and enhances the efficiency of the work environment.