What is Hybrid Solar Lighting?
Hybrid solar lighting is a new innovation in the field of solar energy use, which has caused quite a bit of excitement and buzz because of its simple design and ingenuity. While its primary focus is on industrial and commercial buildings, many environmentally-conscious homeowners are beginning to look at it as a viable source of lighting.
Rather than using solar panels, which collect solar energy as electricity, store that electricity, and use it to power lights throughout a building, hybrid solar lighting instead transmits the solar energy directly into the structure using optical fibers. By bypassing this intermediary step, hybrid solar lighting has a much higher efficiency.
Traditional solar panels are able to utilize approximately 15% of the sunlight they receive, and standard light bulbs lose the bulk of their energy in the form of heat — the end result is a total efficiency of about 2% of the original sunlight. By contrast, hybrid solar lighting systems are able to utilize as much as 50% of the original sunlight.
The benefits don't stop there, either. Hybrid solar lighting systems generate much less heat than traditional bulbs (the optical fibers are cold enough to be touched with no danger of burning), saving on cooling costs. They also yield indirect sunlight, meaning the light you receive is full-spectrum rather than the narrow band found in most light bulbs.
Hybrid solar lighting systems are hybrids because they do utilize artificial light: on a normal day 20% of the light generated is created artificially, and this is automatically increased (using photo sensors to determine light levels) as needed on cloudy days.
Pricing for hybrid solar lighting is dropping dramatically, with one group aiming to get the price down to $3,000 for 10,000 sq. ft. (930 square meters) within a few years. Currently a full setup costs $40,000 for 10,000 sq. ft., but advancing technology and switching to plastic optical fibers should make it possible for prices to drop a full order of magnitude.
The solar lighting industry has definitely come a long way from solar garden lights! I was reading that these new hybrid solar lighting systems can increase worker productivity and sales in businesses. Artificial lighting is responsible for a large percentage of the work related depression cases in this country, and the full spectrum light from these types of lighting systems has been shown to reduce the risks of this disorder.
Studies have also shown that stores illuminated with natural day lighting see a 40% increase in sales over their competitors who use fluorescent lighting (this info came from the discovery channel). It seems like natural sunlight, whether from hybrid solar lighting or the sun itself, are great for improving mood.
@Chicada- The systems work like a concentrating skylight. Instead of a glass or plastic window, there is a bundle of fiber optic cables that are connected to a panel or dish on the roof. This collector may be connected to a solar photovoltaic panel or some other electricity source so it can track the sun. The collector will then focus the light beam through a series of mirrors onto the bundle of cables. This bundle of cables is then routed through the building and separated to create tubes of ambient light and beams of directed light.
These systems are very efficient, but from what I understand, they have a few hurdles to overcome. The cheaper plastic fiber optic cables can only transmit the light effectively for about 50-60 feet from the collector. This does not allow for lighting of the bottom floors on multistory buildings. That being said, it is still worth installing hybrid solar technology in multistory businesses like department stores where 60% or more of the energy use is attributed to lighting. Hybrid solar and led lights in conjunction with each other would be the most efficient way to light this type of business.
How does a hybrid solar lighting system work? I think the idea of solar powered lights is great, but I do not understand how the light is directed into the building. Are there just bundles of fiber optics that run from the exterior to the interior of the building, bringing the little bit of light they collect to the interior?
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