How Do They Work?
Solar orbs (or spheres) are a revolutionary solar energy setup designed by German architect André Broessel and implemented by his company RawLemon. A solar sphere essentially looks like a giant glass marble that serves a single purpose – to harvest the energy of the sun much more effectively than a conventional solar panel.
Although they seem highly promising, these constructions are still being tested at present. In addition, the entire manufacturing process must tick a number of bureaucratic checkboxes before the product can be launched for public use. As such, it will be another few years until more of us have access to a solar sphere for our homes, but why not get accustomed with the new technology before that happens? Here’s what you need to know.
Do We Need Solar Orbs?
The world is just barely getting accustomed to the use of solar panels, so why do we need yet another new invention in this sector? The problem with residential solar panels is that they harvest only a fragment of the energy given out by the sun. Their conversion efficiency sits at around 20%, give or take, in regions where there is plenty of sunshine to go around during the day.
As we speak, a little under 50% of the world can benefit from solar energy. Especially in the Northern hemisphere, solar panels are too ineffective to provide reliable electricity, which is preventing people from switching to this relatively affordable form of clean energy. In addition, even in regions that do get enough sun, a complete solar power installation for the average home requires a lot of suitable roof space, which some home-owners do not have.
Solar orbs, on the other hand, have been demonstrated to work up to 40% more effectively than conventional solar panels. On the one hand, this means that all people throughout the world can use them for clean energy, regardless of their location. On the other hand, it also means that solar power systems can become more manageable in terms of size and installation.
In short, although yet another new solar technology can be intimidating, these solar spheres are more than worth the bother.
How Does a Solar Sphere Work?
Much simpler than these solar powered wind turbines, the components of a functional solar sphere include:
- The lens (the giant marble ball).
- The structure that holds the lens in place.
- The collector (a traditional solar PV panel).
- An integrated solar tracking system.
- A suitable battery.
At the back of each of these solar orbs is a conventional PV solar panel. The difference between the latter and the orb is in the combination of lenses and tracker. The spherical lenses ensure that even the dimmest light is focused onto the PV panel at the back. This shape is so effective that the panel works well during both bright and cloudy days. In fact, it can even harvest solar energy at night, using the light of the moon.
Meanwhile, the in-built solar tracker determines the exact position of the sun/moon at different times during the day. This information is fed into the rotating glass orb and the lenses are automatically repositioned for maximum exposure to light. All of the light is focused onto a small solar panel placed behind the orb, which greatly increases its effectiveness.
As such, the solar sphere does not necessarily bring significant changes to solar PV technology. It is merely a much better augmentation to the latter and a solution to draw more energy from the sun, regardless of where the orb is placed in the world.
Crowd-funding and Small-Scale Applications
To raise money for the research and manufacture of the solar sphere, its creator, André Broessel, started a crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo. During the campaign, those who participated in the development of this new solar technology could purchase or win miniature versions of RawLemon’s solar orbs.
These tiny solar spheres produce enough electricity to allow the charging of phones and other mobile devices. Their high portability makes them perfect for off-grid trips, but also for day-to-day home or office use. Although the crowd-funding campaign has ended some years ago, the miniature devices can still be purchased from RawLemon, under the name of Beta.ey 80 LIM, and continue to partially fund their research.
Other chargers have also become available over the past few years. The Gamma.s (for smartphones), the MT80 (for e-scooters), and the MicroTrack 500HY (for buildings) are just a few other examples of products sold by RawLemon using the same solar sphere technology.
Large-Scale Projects and Building Integration
André Broessel’s ultimate goal for the solar sphere is to create large-scale applications for homes and entire buildings (so you can charge your solar lights, or any other home solar devices). To illustrate his point, he used the example of Dubai’s famous Burj Khalifa, whose windows/façade could be replaced with solar orbs. If only a quarter of the building’s skin (the south side, for instance) was redesigned, this could produce up to 16.4 Gigawatt-hours per year.
Obviously, that’s a lot, but to give you a better idea of just how much electricity we’re talking about, a single façade would be enough to power the tower itself and have about 60% of the energy to spare. Not only would this save the company a ton of funds in the long run, but it would actually translate into profits of $1.2 million per year if the owners chose to feed the leftover energy back into the grid.
The same amount of energy would be enough to power the entire city of New York for more than a couple of hours each day. In short, the return on investment for this technology is tremendous, which is why it’s very likely that we will hear more about Broessel’s solar orbs in the near future. According to the architect, the spheres should be integrated in the design and construction of all buildings, including residential homes, to power solar generators like these.
Will this actually be the case a decade from now? Only time will tell. Until then, however, you can test the miniature version of the technology to charge your phone or other mobile device. There’s no better way to get accustomed to it and the way it works than by trying it out yourself. (And for a fuller explanation on what solar energy is, click the preceding link!)