Costa Rica Institute of Technology Rethinks the Design of Solar Panels posted by on May 9, 2012
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Posted by on May 7, 2012 in Technology

A group of researchers from the Costa Rica Institute of Technology (TEC in Spanish) is working on redesigning solar panels as we know them. Within two years, the researchers expect prototypes that yield the following results:

  • Realistic production of electrical power in tropical climates.
  • Certification of the new panels in order to make Costa Rica a hub for clean power technologies.

The TEC project is counting on the support from the academic and business communities to stimulate the development of renewable sources of energy. The researchers are part of TEC’s Electronic Laboratories for Sustainability. They are investigating the technology currently in use in Germany and the United States, two nations where implementation of solar-powered electrical public utilities has had regional success. The idea is to modify these panels and make them adaptable to the more constant temperatures of the tropics.

Carlos Meza, a professor at TEC explained to online business publication Entorno Inteligente that the panels produced in Germany and the U.S. “are designed to be robust in order to withstand extreme wind conditions and snowfalls, plus the panels are graded to be installed at a certain angle, which does not correspond to the perpendicular way the Sun’s rays fall on the Tropics.”

Costa Rica should be an ideal country for solar power technology, explained Professor Meza. One of the ideas is to place the panels horizontally on the ground, to increase the effectiveness of capturing more radiation. The same goes for roof installations: the panel can be offset so that they form a perpendicular plane with the rays from the Sun.

As far as materials go, the TEC team will have the support of Tico nanotechnology researchers; the idea is to figure out how to use nanoparticles of silver and zinc to better capture sunlight. This in turn will reduce manufacturing costs, one of the current obstacles to the wide implementation of solar power energy for electrification purposes.

Solar energy projects for the production of electricity in Costa Rica are concentrated in the rural areas; they are not part of the nationwide electrical grid. With improved solar panels, these projects could actually extend their reach and connect to the existing grid, where they could provide up to 200 kilowatts per hour -enough to keep the lights on in 170 households for a month.

The TEC team has already spoken with German and Japanese businessmen about the research project, and they are very interested. They could finance part of the project now and later have the right to purchase solar panels manufactured to their specifications at low cost.

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