Rather than try to reinvent the solar cell, startup Thermata has engineered a high-tech mirror to cut the cost of solar power.
The company, incubated at Idealabs, has completed initial testing on a system executives say can cut the cost of sun-tracking mirrors, or heliostats, in half using cameras and other digital technologies. Thermata plans to start beta testing the heliostats this year with potential customers, which are concentrating solar power technology companies, and with Sandia National Laboratories.
Thermata typifies a new breed of green-technology startup which is targeting a specific niche in energy using technologies from other fields. Its system uses a camera to detect the angle of heliostats and a mesh network of microprocessors to position each mirror with the ideal tilt. In a concentrating solar power plant, thousands or even millions of heliostats concentrate light onto a tower to produce steam, which turns a turbine to generate electricity.
"Instead of using calculations and past knowledge to infer where the mirror is, we can physically measure the angle and control it explicitly," said CEO Terry Bailey. "We've use intelligence instead of steel."
Heliostats now used at concentrating solar power plants are heavy-duty pieces of equipment, mounted on pylons to withstand high winds and connected via wires to control their motion.