This Is What Solar Panels Used to Look Like

Illustration for article titled This Is What Solar Panels Used to Look Like

This incredibly beautiful object is a dual-axis array of non-imaging solar concentrators—or, in other words, a solar panel. Things have certainly changed, haven't they?

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It was developed for photovoltaic conversion by Sun Trac Corp. for the Argonne National Laboratory in the seventies. That was when studying solar power—and searching for the most efficient ways to turn sunlight into electricity—suddenly became fashionable in the scientific world.

The unique shape of Argonne's solar concentrators gathered sunlight scattered by haze, smog and air pollution, as well as direct sunlight. The concentrating reflectors could be used in solar heating and cooling systems or with photovoltaic cells to directly convert solar energy into electricity.

And it looks ultimately cool—kind of like Eero Aarnio's Ball Chair. I want to live with this precious thing in my future Jetsons-style home.

Images by Department of Energy

Illustration for article titled This Is What Solar Panels Used to Look Like
Illustration for article titled This Is What Solar Panels Used to Look Like
Illustration for article titled This Is What Solar Panels Used to Look Like
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DISCUSSION

GregEganist
GregEganist

It's turned upside down. Those cones are supposed to face up, and there's a tiny little solar cell at each tip. The idea was to capture all the light that fell within a certain angle of the axis of the cone without using lenses, and concentrate it on the cell at the tip. They're called Winston Cones, and were originally derived from X-ray telescopes. X-rays aren't bent by lenses, and are only reflected at shallow incidences, so regular telescope optics won't work. This whole system is from the days when the cell was by far the most expensive part of a solar panel, and so it was worth it to have a lot of mirror area instead of cell area.