The clean energy boffins in their labs are always upping the theoretical limit on how much power you can get out of sunshine, but us plebes actually installing solar cells are stuck with years-old tech that’s not half as good as what they’re seeing. This new design from Insolight could be the one that changes all that.
Insolight is a spinoff from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, where they’ve been working on this new approach for a few years — and it’s almost ready to hit your roof.
Usually solar cells collect sunlight on their entire surface, converting it to electricity at perhaps 15-19 percent efficiency — meaning about 85 percent of the energy is lost in the process. There are more efficient cells out there, but they’re generally expensive and special-purpose, or use some exotic material.
One place people tend to spare no expense, however, is in space. Solar cells on many satellites are more efficient but, predictably, not cheap. But that’s not a problem if you only use just a tiny amount of them and concentrate the sunlight on those; that’s the Insolight insight.
Small but very high-efficiency cells are laid down on a grid, and above that is placed a honeycomb-like lens array that takes light and bends it into a narrow beam concentrated only on the tiny cells. As the sun moves, the cell layer moves ever so slightly, keeping the beams on target. They’ve achieved as high as 37 percent efficiency in tests, and 30 percent in consumer-oriented designs. That means half again or twice the power from the same area as ordinary panels.
Certainly this adds a layer or two of complexity to the current mass-manufactured arrays that are “good enough” but far from state of the art. But the resulting panels aren’t much different in size or shape, and don’t require special placement or hardware, such as a concentrator or special platform. And a recently completed pilot test on an EPFL roof was passed with flying colors.
“Our panels were hooked up to the grid and monitored continually. They kept working without a hitch through heat waves, storms and winter weather,” said Mathiu Ackermann, the company’s CTO, in an EPFL news release. “This hybrid approach is particularly effective when it’s cloudy and the sunlight is less concentrated, since it can keep generating power even under diffuse light rays.”
The company is now in talks with solar panel manufacturers, whom they are no doubt trying to convince that it’s not that hard to integrate this tech with their existing manufacturing lines — “a few additional steps during the assembly stage,” said Ackermann. Expect Insolight panels to hit the market in 2022 — yeah, it’s still a ways off, but maybe by then we’ll all have electric cars too and this will seem like an even better deal.
Apple May Bring Major Design Changes To Entry-Level iPad
The changes aren’t skin deep, of course, and the next base iPad is expected to sport changes that may make it more appealing to the casual consumer. At the top of that list is the anticipated switch from the Lightning connector to USB-C, something that all other iPad models have already received. This would not only open up the entry-level iPad to more use cases like hooking up external displays but would also break compatibility with plenty of accessories, particularly the first-gen Apple Pencil.
The first Apple Pencil charges using a Lightning port, but with this connector gone from the upcoming iPad, what would no longer be possible. Given its expected switch to flat edges, it’s likely that the iPad 10 will support the second-gen Apple Pencil. That, in turn, means the days of the original Apple Pencil are numbered, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Apple immediately halts its production.
With the changes to the design and Lightning port would also come a change to the one other legacy connector that has been present since the first iPad: the 3.5mm headphone jack, which will supposedly be making its exit from the iPad this year. If that rumor proves true, Apple’s transition away from wired headphones — at least as far as a direct connection goes — will be complete. These changes also mean that accessory makers will have to alter their designs, as well, especially case manufacturers. The magnetic Smart Cover’s design, for example, no longer has a place in this flat-edged world.
BMW Is Testing Electric Cars With Four Motors For Its Fiercest M EVs
The company’s M xDrive four-wheel drive system is currently in the testing phase, but has already produced some very promising results. The system gives each wheel its own electric motor and runs through a “highly integrated control unit” that takes action based on the driving conditions and the driver’s choices. Along with the driving surface, several other factors are taken into consideration, including accelerator pedal position, steering angle, longitudinal and lateral acceleration, and wheel speeds. All of this is continually monitored and the optimal amount of power and torque is given to each wheel. The decisions the control unit makes are put into action within milliseconds.
BMW has already tested this technology and claims it delivered a number of benefits, including “significantly higher cornering speeds” even in tough conditions, like rain-soaked or snow-covered roads. A specific example the company gave involved the control unit eliminating understeer by temporarily giving more power to the rear outside wheel. The motors also recoup energy when braking. This has been a common feature on many EVs and hybrids for several years, but BMW’s experimental drive train may be the first to optimize energy recovery on all four wheels.
The concept is being tested out on a modified BMW i4 M50 with the front end based around an adapted body strut concept taken from an M3/M4 chassis, and a radiator unit configuration modeled on current high-performance sports cars. The test car is designed to have high torsional rigidity during dynamic driving situations.
The Truth About Porsche’s Complicated Model Number System
Why did it start with the number seven? According to the book “Porsche, Excellence Was Expected” by Karl Ludvigsen, the designers didn’t want Wanderer to “think they were a bunch of novices.” And if you want to get really technical, the very first car Ferdinand built was the Egger-Lohner C2 Phaeton (designated P1) in 1898. Remember, literally every project the company worked on received a successively higher number, from axles to suspensions, gearboxes, and even tractors. Yes, Porsche designed an even slower vehicle than the Volkswagen Thing.
In 1932 came type 22, its first Grand Prix car, the 16-cylinder Auto Union race car. For Porsche, the race was indeed on as figuratively as it was literally. Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche GmbH worked on all sorts of things, from steering components for Citroën and Fiat to axels, plane and motorcycle engines, and yes… the type 60 KdF-Wagen for Volkswagen (and Hitler), which would go on to fame as the VW Bug. However, the system got a little wonky during World War II, when many numbers in the 200 range were simply skipped over (via Ingenieurbüro Kukuk).
By 1948, its internal numbering system had gotten up into the mid-300s. In June of that year, the first vehicle that displayed the official Porsche name rolled into existence with the now iconic Porsche 356, according to the automaker. But it came with a new wrinkle: as the 356 evolved with the latest technological advances, each subsequent model was designated with letters (A, B, C). Alphabet soup with your zip codes, anyone?
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