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Aussie panel could halve solar cost

Post Time:Sep 24,2008Classify:Glass QuotationView:453

SCIENTISTS have invented a new breed of solar panel which generates electricity and hot water at the same time – and could halve the cost of going solar.

Household roofs would be kitted out with rows of mini-troughs, made of mirrors, if the project gets off the ground.

For now, eco-conscious households must install separate solar hot water heaters and solar electricity panels at a total average cost of around $16,000, excluding government rebates.

The high cost is a barrier to some homes going solar.

But researchers at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra think the new "two-in-one" invention could cost much less – around $5,000-$10,000, at a rough guess.

Igor Skryabin, from the ANU's college of engineering, was confident the new breed of panel would be cheaper.

"Obviously, for the simple reason because it generates electricity and hot water simultaneously in the one system," Dr Skryabin said.

"I think it should be significantly cheaper and more efficient."

Dr Skryabin said an average-sized installation would provide enough hot water to run a household, and between half and two-thirds of the power needed for an energy-efficient household.

The new panels consist of thin troughs made up of mirrors.

The mirrors concentrate the sun's rays onto a solar strip, which runs along the troughs. The strip generates electricity.

The strip also contains treated water, which heats up with the sun. That heat is conveyed into the home's hot water system.

ANU researchers have installed a large-scale "two-in-one" system on a university building, and have developed a house-sized prototype.

The challenge is to commercialise the project and find the cheapest way to manufacture it, according to Dr Skryabin.

He estimated the mini-troughs could be ready to install in two to three years' time.

Dr Skryabin stressed the estimated price of the system was a rough guess, and more work needed to be done to finalise costs.

The cost of going solar now is based on $13,000 for a small solar electricity array, and $3,000 for a solar hot water heater. Prices can vary widely and partial government rebates are available.

Researchers from China's Tianjin University and Chromasun, a Silicon Valley company, are involved in the "two-in-one" project. The Australian government has provided $1.8 million in seed funding.

Source: news.com.auAuthor: shangyi

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