Utah-based company develops advanced solar energy technology
Jun 08, 2011 by Eric M. Beckstead
With a $3 trillion world energy market, companies are constantly developing news ways of generating power, and a Utah-based company — RaPower3 — has developed an advanced way to tap into the sun’s energy.
RaPower3 uses specially designed lenses that focus the sun’s rays like a superpowered magnifying glass. That heat is then used to generate steam, which powers turbines that produce electricity. This process also simultaneously converts zinc into zinc oxide, allowing energy to be produced even when the sun goes down.
According to the website, this process is considered to be years before its time. Greg Shepard, chief director of operations, said this is what lets the company produce so much energy.
“One of the things people look at is your ability … how many megawatts a year you can produce, and heretofore the largest energy companies can do maybe 400 megawatts per year,” Shepard said. “In a year or two, we’ll be doing 20 even 30 thousand megawatts a year for our annual capacity. In 10 years you’d cover most of the United States with that.”
To put that number in context, one megawatt could power 1,000 homes, according to Answers.com. Shepard said 400 megawatts would power Utah County.
Also, the heat produced by these lenses and concentrator is so intense that unfocused beams can ignite a piece of wood.
“We have a concentrator which boosts temperatures up to 2,500 degrees,” Shepard said.
Typically a product like this would cost more than what the energy produced is worth – which is one of the big hang-ups with renewable energy – but this new product costs a fraction of what older models do, Shepard said.
“Every one of our components is breakthrough technology … our lenses are made of a plastic acrylic material and so … we can mass produce our lenses at a tiny cost,” Shepard said. “The other part of our breakthrough technology is our turbine. It’s different from conventional turbines, and they’re far cheaper to make, the cost of operation is far cheaper, and it has a much greater efficiency.”
RaPower3 is almost finished with all the components and will be able to go into mass production soon, Shepard said.
According to International Automated Systems, the company that provides the product, they are years ahead of the World Government’s projected goal for the cost of power by 2020.
“We’re going to be able to produce massive amounts of energy for the same price as coal,” Shepard said.
Katlyn Wilcox, a graphic design major from Pearland, Texas, said she thinks solar power for the same price as other energy sources would have a positive affect.
“That would be fantastic,” Wilcox said. “I mean coal isn’t renewable and it releases gases and increases global warming. Solar energy would be awesome.”
Caleb Shumway, an exercise science major from Phoenix, agrees with Wilcox but from a different perspective.
“The reason I look toward renewable energy as a solution is mostly economic,” Shumway said. “It’s important to not be dependent upon the rest of the world for energy. We have plenty of sunlight and air to go around.”
Shepard said the company is hopeful for the future because most people would feel the same way.
“Do you want solar or nuclear energy? That’s a no-brainer. We want solar energy,” Shepard said. “Do you want coal or do you want solar? You want solar.”