Intelligent Energy

Italian roses bloom under rooftop solar thermal

Italian roses bloom under rooftop solar thermal

Posting in Energy

Roses in Italy's Puglia region could bud all year long under solar-thermal rooftops. U.S. start-up Solergy's CPV systems power and heat greenhouses and a Sicilian airport.

Four generations of the Ciccolella family have relied on sunshine to cultivate the olives and roses on their farm in Puglia. Current owner Giuseppe Ciccolella continues that tradition, but he plans on getting more from the strong and steady Italian sun—namely, electric and heat power.

He recently agreed to put a 105-kilowatt solar thermal array atop the greenhouse for his roses, possibly pioneering the technology for agriculture in this sunny section of Italy. The hybrid system from Solergy captures and focuses sunshine via cone-shaped modules capped by the world's first optical concentrating lenses that are 100-percent glass (the lenses usually contain acrylic). Set on tracks, the panels roll and tilt to catch sun rays shining down from different points in the sky. At 500 times the intensity, the sunlight strikes the system's non-silicon solar cells to generate electricity. The waste heat then warms a fluid that can be used for air conditioning, hot water, space heating, water desalination, and other industrial purposes.

Within the emerging industry, solar thermal power takes many forms—towers, troughs, cones, mirrors, lenses. But it's usually on the ground, not on rooftops. Solergy's newly introduced BICPV (Building Integrated Concentrated Photovoltaics) would be the first.

The San Francisco start-up expects to install a similar array at Sicily's Pantelleria Airport by the end of 2011. The 250-kilowatt co-generation system will power the building's air conditioning. Now partnering with the Azienda Agricola Ciccolella farm, Solergy aims to plant its concentrated photovoltaic systems throughout the Puglia region in southeastern Italy (the heel of the boot).

Giuseppe Ciccolella says in a statement:

Energy is one of the largest expenses in our business. In fact, we shut down operations during the winter months precisely for this reason. We had been considering PV for some time, but simply weren’t convinced that it could provide a cost-effective solution for our particular needs. Solergy’s Cogen CPV offers the ability for our greenhouse to operate all year long while remaining profitable.

According to the company, the region's agricultural industry represents hundreds of megawatts and would be ripe for their Cogen CPV systems. If so, things could be turning up rosier for small-scale solar thermal systems.

Typically these hybrid power generators live large, needing big plots of land and lots of dollars. For instance, Cogentrix Energy received a $90.6 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy just last week for its 30-megawatt concentrated photovoltaic installation. When finished, the Alamosa Solar Generating Project in Colorado will span 225 acres.

No price was given for greenhouse set-up, but Solergy says the electricity and thermal power output combine for an efficiency of 75 percent. That's about three times more efficient than your more conventional photovoltaic flat panels. For the Ciccolellas, that could smell very good.

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Images: Solergy and Flickr/outdoorPDK

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Melissa Mahony

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Melissa Mahony has written for Scientific American Mind, Audubon Magazine, Plenty Magazine and LiveScience. Formerly, she was an editor at Wildlife Conservation magazine. She holds degrees from Boston College and New York University's Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure