Beth Parks, an associate professor at Colgate University, US on collaboration with students at Mbarara University of Science and Technology in Uganda has designed a simple inexpensive frame to improve solar cell efficiency. The team used metal tubing that a local welder could easily procure and assemble. The energy produced using the metal frame is enhanced by almost one-third as the cells in the frame capture more than the usual amount of sunlight.
Researchers claim that the newly designed frame can benefit the people in developing countries as well as remote regions that lack access to grid connectivity. Beth parks said that the work was targeted for the people of Uganda as 20-25% of them have no access to electricity. Since a single solar cell is sufficient to power lights and charge cell phones and appliances like radio, a frame can mean a lot to the people of Uganda.
Parks and her team have come up with an interesting experiment to increase the amount of sunlight captured by these cells. The idea for this experiment was from a design that wasn’t tested to evaluate its performance. Having known that this design wasn’t optimized for affordability to ensure commercial viability and adoption, Parks and her team used inexpensive materials to track the arc of the sun throughout the day. Although the solar PV systems provide a clean source of power, they are usually mounted and optimally inclined towards the direction of sunlight during periods of maximum sunshine.
In the design by Parks and her team, a bucket of rocks was placed on the west side of the metal frame and a bucket of water was placed on the east side. A controlled leak from the bucket of water resulted in weight shift which in turn slowly rotated the panel from east to west throughout the period of sunshine. The performance of this design was monitored for 20 random days in Uganda. Parks and her team observed a 30% increase in the amount of sunlight captured by the movable frame.
If this design is adopted, it has the potential to make solar power more affordable to people in developing countries. The local community in Uganda can create a small industry for themselves by implementing the above design to capture solar energy.
The important takeaway from this read is that the cost of the system, the solar cell, battery, charger and frame is about 10% less than a comparable rooftop solar cell system.