Solar Panel-In-a-Tube Generates Power and Hot Water At the Same TimeS

Solar photovoltaic cells and solar thermal collectors both capture the sun's rays. The first one turns the light into electricity, while the other turns it into hot water for heating. They usually battle for rooftop real estate, but Naked Energy has found a way to merge them both into a single solar solution.

The British company's Virtu tubes gain efficiency by operating in tandem—it's teamwork, just like you learned as a kid. Inside each vacuum-sealed tube is a power-producing photovoltaic wafer. Sunlight hitting the wafer generates extra heat, which then transfers to the tube's solar thermal collector using the company's patented thermosyphon technology.

The transfer keeps the photovoltaic cells close to their optimal operating temperature, with the shared benefit of a hot water supply that can be used to help heat a building on the cheap. In other words, the hybrid design makes a Virtu up to 46 percent more efficient at turning sunlight into energy than traditional solar panels.

At the moment, Naked Energy is still refining and improving the product's design. Developers are working with professors at the Imperial College in London to further increase their efficiency. The company intends to create a commercially available product once it's happy with the solar cell's performance. [Naked Energy via PhysOrg]