Inflatable Solar Energy Collector Apparatus
Solar energy collector design composed of various mirror and lens combinations have been proposed, with significant attention being paid to the concentrating power of the lens or mirror. These solutions typically involve expensive coated glass surfaces and the weight of the components requires substantial mechanical actuators to move them so that they can accurately track the sun's motion across the sky. While functional, the prior art systems are expensive and complex.
The present invention is an inflatable solar energy collector using two elongated and pressure-stabilized air chambers with a trough-shaped reflecting surface in between. The curvature of the reflecting surface is created by adjusting the differential pressure between the two air chambers and the device can be configured to provide a focal point outside the air chambers or inside the air chambers. For the version using the external focal point an external energy receiver is appropriately positioned. For the version using the internal focal point, the receiver is mounted inside one of the air chambers. The collector is preferably adjustable in azimuth to accurately track the sun's motion across the sky and is able to operate efficiently without the need for altitude adjustment, although altitude adjustment may also be optionally provided. The invention preferably incorporates a novel energy receiver in which stagnant air is entrapped and used as an insulator.
This light-weight solar concentrator is of interest as the infrastructure required to support and rotate it is reduced compared to more massive concentrators. Parabolic troughs need to be rotated about only one axis to track the sun throughout the year and concentration power of troughs is sufficient to reach reasonable temperatures. This invention would therefore provide a solar concentrating device made of inexpensive materials and is relatively light and simple.