March 24, 2016
Solar panels floating above the clouds on balloons could not only yield more power than terrestrial systems, but could also store excess energy as hydrogen.
The concept envisages solar panels on balloons about 6km above ground, higher up than Mont Blanc, where solar intensity is higher and is less likely to be obscured by clouds and dust.
The power accumulated would be transferred to the ground using the tether and used in everyday applications.
Proposed by Jean-François Guillemoles, director of NextPV lab, an R&D joint venture between the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the University of Tokyo, the concept sees excess PV power used to generate hydrogen. This will be stored within the balloons, keeping them aloft and available for use as required by generating power through fuel cells.
One balloon could store several days worth of solar generation, enabling the system to produce power even during the hours of darkness.
The team from NextPV aims to build a working prototype in the next two years.
Editor’s comment: There are a number of engineering challenges to overcome for this concept to be realised – not least of which is the vulnerability of hydrogen airships to fire. Nonetheless, Guillemoles is not the first to consider high altitude solar PV platforms as an ideal location to generate power.