Cheaper Solar Power?

Michael Giberson

That is the goal. Few numbers show up in the Christian Science Monitor article to support that claim, but the people discussed are launching a business with the goal of improving the design further and then go to production. The key innovations appear to be in the cheaper process to produce the appropriately shaped mirrors and build the supporting structure.

Whether they ultimately succeed or not, the article comes with a video showing a board bursting into flames, so at least the designers are having fun:

Out on a lawn at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with joggers and traffic passing nearby, Spencer Ahrens is demonstrating what looks like either the future of solar power – or perhaps a death ray.

Thrusting a 12-foot board up into the air in front of a large mirror-covered satellite-type dish, Mr. Ahrens, an MIT graduate student, waves the board, looking for an elusive sweet spot where reflected sun rays converge.

With three student teammates looking on, he steadies the board once its tip begins to glow. Shining white in the reflected solar rays, the wood suddenly bursts into flames. Students laugh as smoke billows in the breeze.

This burning-board trick may seem like a YouTube stunt, but it’s actually a visceral demonstration of a device with a serious purpose: to make super-cheap solar heat.