View Full Version : Cheap solar from potato chip bags

09-25-2005, 05:42 PM
Man's creation could make solar power more accessible
DIRK PERREFORT dperrefort@ctpost.com

Who would have thought the material used to make potato chip bags could revolutionize the solar energy industry?

Nobody, until Milford resident Michael Costner came along. And now the mechanical engineer hopes to patent his visionary idea to make solar energy technology less expensive and more accessible to a larger market.

"We've developed a design that would deliver solar energy at more affordable costs," said Costner, a consultant with Aerospace Structural Research on Depot Road in Milford. "Our goal is to reduce the price so that solar energy can become more widely accepted. We think we're there."

He added previous attempts to design a solar collector system, which focuses sunlight on a central beam, have been unsuccessful because of the costs involved. Mirrors used in prototype collector systems to reflect the light are often too expensive and heavy for traditional uses.

Costner and his partner, Eric Hochberg, an optics expert with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, decided to use an aluminum mylar to reflect the sun's rays. The mylar is the same material used in potato chip bags. The material is not only light but cheap, Costner said.

He said the cost of a solar flat panel system that can produce 450 watts of peak output averages around $3,100, while the same system using his solar collector would cost a consumer $1,250, a savings of nearly 60 percent. A typical flat panel system can take up to 12 years to pay itself off, Costner said, while his solar collector could pay itself off in less than five years. An added benefit of the solar collector is besides providing electricity, it can also heat hot water.

"A person could use their existing hot water heater as a storage tank," he said. "Besides cutting their electric bills, someone who installs this solar collector could also reduce their natural gas bills."

A representative of the national Solar Energy Industry Association said he hasn't seen technology on the market that can also produce hot water.

"That seems to be a fairly new idea I haven't heard of before," said Noah Kaye, a spokesman for the association. "I would be very interested in reviewing the specifications for the unit."

He added the solar collector could have "tremendous potential" in a growing market. Rising energy costs and government incentives have increased the popularity of solar energy in recent years, Kaye said. Global revenues in the industry are expected to top $36 billion by the end of the decade.

"The industry goal is to be cost competitive to retail electricity prices," he said. "It sounds like this product could help to meet those goals."

Ann Berman, president of the Milford Environmental Concerns Coalition, said she has saved significantly on her electric bills after installing a traditional flat panel solar display on her home that cost about $22,000. More than half of the cost was paid for through the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund, which offers grants for state residents who add solar energy to their homes.

"I would love to take a look at this new solar collector," Berman said. "It sounds like a great system for businesses and apartment buildings."

Costner said a prototype of the solar collector is being used in California by an aluminum plant. He plans to produce two more prototypes of the collector, which has a patent pending, by the end of the year.

"Hopefully, we can begin production by the middle of next year and start marketing the product," Costner said.


UKBB <2500 bucks to produce nearly all the electricity I need and hot water too....Sweet!>