Solar Power Efficiency is Significantly Impacted By Diffraction, Here’s How This Problem Can Be Solved
Solar power is arguably the future with regards to how we might provide energy to the entire world. However, a widely accepted fact about solar energy is that its efficacy can be severely impacted by a number of different factors, and many of these factors aren’t even fully understood yet. This is a big part of why research in this field is so intense and ongoing, and professor by the name of Christi Madsen who is currently working at Texas A&M University is attempting to shed some light on one such factor that has not been as widely discussed as it should be.
In order to understand what this factor is, we must first understand how light is scattered when it hits a surface. When light strikes an uneven surface, it disperses in a phenomenon known as diffraction. This is a big part of why fluid thermal transmission systems are currently used, since diffraction can result in major energy loss if alternative methods are used. A potential alternative that can be explored involves the use of light pipes which essentially use a methodology that is similar to that of optical fibers.
Light pipes are basically larger versions of optical fibers and they need to be this size since optical fibers generally can’t handle the type of load that solar energy can bring. However, due to their glass based construction, diffraction results in significant power loss which is a problem that needs to be addressed before solar power can become the global standard. Part of Madsen’s goals in her research is to make light pipes as efficient as optical fibers whilst still offering the significant size advantage that makes them so useful in solar power applications. They certainly do have a lot of potential, but they require a bit more research before they can be used effectively.
The theory that Madsen is working on basically involves eschewing the idea of converting sunlight directly into electricity for industrial or residential use. Current diffraction calculations are highly inaccurate according to her research, so instead of trying to refine them it would be better to transport the light to a different location where it can be converted into thermal energy or electricity a lot more effectively.
Events like https://earthfestsingapore.com/ try to promote the use of renewable energy sources by encouraging people to experiment with them, and research like this is a big part of us potentially being able to avoid the use of fossil fuels entirely in the future. There is a lot of complex math that still needs to be done before maximum efficiency can be reached, but if we have learned anything from the previous few decades of innovation it’s that there really is no limit to how much power we can derive from solar energy as long as we keep improving our power collection and distribution methods and refuse to rest on our laurels in this regard.