The Sunball, a "solar appliance" due out in mid-2006, is an example of something I expect to see quite a bit more of in the coming months and years: a renewable energy system combining a novel design with promises of easy installation and use. I have no idea whether the Sunball will perform up to the claims made by the manufacturers, Australia's Green & Gold Energy, but in many respects that's secondary. What's important is that we're now seeing more kinds of renewable energy systems aimed not at hobbyists and those willing to fiddle with clumsy tech, but at people who want something relatively stylish (whether the Sunball meets that criteria is a matter of taste, of course) and something relatively "plug and play." Building-integrated photovoltaics are another example, albeit a less-radical departure.
The technology of the Sunball is unusual, but not unprecedented. Rather than a flat panel, it uses fresnel lenses to concentrate sunlight onto an arrangement of high-efficiency cells, increasing the amount of light hitting the cells. This allows the Sunball to be less-costly than standard pv, with an estimated cost of AU$1,400 (about US$1,050) per 330 W peak unit. We've talked about solar concentrators before, but the previous examples were clearly meant for larger-scale power generation; one advantage of solar concentrator technology is that it can produce more power in a limited space than normal photovoltaic panels. What's novel about the Sunball is that it's meant for home users, particularly those who don't want to cover their rooftops with black glass panels.
The manufacturers have handy calculators and maps for figuring out whether the Sunball will produce cost-competitive electricity in a given location in the US or Australia. As noted above, the units aren't yet shipping, so early cost estimates -- US$6,000, without rebates, for an installed 4-unit system able to supply half of a typical household's power -- may be way off. And while the Sunball is less-clumsy than traditional flat solar panels, neither is it a particularly wonderful example of industrial design. In short, even if it's a flop, it will blaze the trail for subsequent competitors.
The era of the solar panel is over; long live the age of solar design.
The other hurdle is getting community and condo associations to *ALLOW* solar systems - is anyone in the industry pushing the way the satellite dish people pushed to get legislation allowing condo/townhouse owners to put up dishes?
Thanks for the kind comments. When I designed the SunBall I wanted to take solar rooftop electricity generation to the next stage. I decided to tackle several problems in one elegant solution.
1) No visible from the road frontage solar roof clutter.
As the SunBall tracks the sun they can be installed on virtually and roof surface with good solar availability. Invisible solar!!!
2) Significant reduction in both the hours required for installation and the level of technical expertise.
When compared with an equivalent kWh flat panel system, a SunBall system can be installed in about 1/6 to 1/8 the time. Due to the use of an inbuilt AC grid connect inverter, the SunBall can be installed by any electrician. No solar training necessary.
3) Needs to generate rooftop electricity cheaper than that available from the grid.
The use of space related high efficiency cells (which convert UV, light and IR) into electricity coupled with low cost Fresnel lenses reduced the area of solar cells by a factor of 2000:1. This then drives the kWh cost reduction. Then add in dawn to dual Max kWh tracking, Cool PV cell temps and almost no cell heat related efficiency loss and you have a package with can deliver solar kWhs at about 20 - 25% of what flat panels can.
4) Need to match generation profile with peak network loading to avoid very costly network augmentation.
The SunBall does dawn to dusk tracking and thus the generation profile overlaps network peak making the SunBall the most cost effective way to deal with costly hot summer network peaks.
5) Need to preserve conversion efficiency on hot summer days.
The use of massive passive cooling with the almost non existence heat derating of the Spectrolab cells (-0.04%/deg C compared with silicon at -0.55%/deg C) results in only 2% efficiency loss at 40 deg C as compared to silicon flat panels at ~30% efficiency loss.
6) Significant alteration in how the SunBall looks compared to flat panels.
I think here I have done a good job. Maybe Ill win another Australian Design Award to add to the collection?
Greg, well done on the technical & aesthetic design, now you need to notch up some working successes with real customers, supported with more professional marketing than yr current website and backyard pics with dog dishes. Good luck with it!
What you didn't read about the 1.5MWs of SunBalls we will be installing at the world's first solar shopping centre? Check the "News" section.
As far as needing slick marketing you must be kidding? The market demand driven by high energy costs and concerns about the enviroment has already driven this product into the market. No need to spend mega bucks on spin and gloss while passing the charges through to the SunBall customers.
Besides whats wrong with lamp shades and dogs dishes? They work. ;-)
Hi Greg, very interesting product.
If I might be so bold as to expand on Sturt's point, it's not so much that the product will flop as that other organizations with a more polished approach may well squeeze you out of the market with an inferior, but better marketted, product.
We few who had interest in alternative energy before the 'big crunch' may see the inherent advantages to your design, but there's a vast mass of people who have no knowledge or any desire to learn. They just want a plug-n-play device that lets them forget about it and go on with their day... so which one are they going to use? The best one, or the one which they've seen referenced about a dozen times on tv, radio, magazines etc?
Don't stop doing what you do. Just please recognize that marketting a product, even a product everyone will be driven towards, is still an essential.
I believe Mr Watson has a "Nose" for competition !
All the best,
We few who had interest in alternative energy before the 'big crunch' may see the inherent advantages to your design, but there's a vast mass of people who have no knowledge or any desire to learn.
They just want a plug-n-play device that lets them forget about it and go on with their day... so which one are they going to use?
** That's what the SunBall is, the world's first Solar Appliance. Put it on your roof and plug it in. Current wiring rules may not legally allow that to happen but I'm sure in time the rules will change to the reality of the plug & power SunBall.
The best one, or the one which they've seen referenced about a dozen times on tv, radio, magazines etc?
** So you don't think the internet is a good advertising media? I think I'll sell more than I can make many times over.
** As for Steve's comment about noses it seems I have put a few solar academia noses out of joint down here in Oz. They call me a "Solar Terrorist". Guess they may be concerned about their going sideways (just give me a few more 10's of millions and I have something in 10 years or so) research grants drying up.