Surely someone else has thought of this?

I live in Jerusalem, where both my Palestinian and Israeli friends constantly complain about the cost of living. Arabic rhetoric is based largely on lists of toils:

“I have to pay rent, arnona (municipal tax), school fees, car tax, water, electricity…” The list goes on.

In such a sunny country, it astounds me that there is still no cheap, efficient, marketable household device that sits on your roof and turns the Middle East’s copious solar energy into electricity. I understand that photovoltaic cells are inefficient and expensive, presumably because what they do involves complex physics and costly materials.

However, almost every roof in this city has a solar panel that heats the water. These things are cheap enough to be everywhere, and I know from experience that they are very efficient.

I recently saw a pipe bursting off the end of one of these panels, due to the sheer pressure that had built up inside. Steam and boiling water shot out of the end of the panel for several minutes.

So I want to know: how difficult would it be to make a device that could harvest the power of the hot water and steam in these affordable water-heating solar panels, rather than trying to convert sunlight directly into electricity with expensive and inefficient photovoltaic cells? Surely it would be possible to hook up some kind of steam turbine to a panel and use that steam power to generate electricity? Wouldn’t this be both simpler and cheaper than a whole panel of pricey photovoltaic material?

It seems to me – as a layman – that trying something different like this might be a more successful strategy for solar energy R&D than pouring efforts into knocking a few more percentage points of efficiency out of prohibitively expensive photovoltaic cells.

Is anyone trying to do this? Is it a crazy idea? Or has it simply not been tried?

Please feel free to steal the idea and make millions of pounds out of it, as long as it contributes to making the planet a cleaner place for my children and grandchildren to live on.

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One Response to Surely someone else has thought of this?

  1. Stuart Roberts says:

    It’s been done on a large scale with huge parabolic mirrors to focus the sun’s energy
    http://www.national-geographic-magazine.co.uk/featured_issue.php?jlnk=lsl0040
    not sure if there’s any small scale examples.

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