Monday, August 21, 2006

"ENERGY: ORNL spin-off beta tests hybrid solar lighting"

The Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory has transferred its hybrid solar/artificial-light technology to Sunlight Direct LLC (Oak Ridge, Tenn.), a company spun off from ORNL to commercialize the approach. Now in beta testing at five locations, with 20 more slated to be installed this fall, the technology could save utility customers $1 per square foot yearly on lighting costs, its inventors say. The adaptive, full-spectrum, solar collection and distribution platform, developed over a 10-year period with millions in Energy Department grants, collects sunlight via a mirrored dish on the roof that tracks the sun as it passes overhead each day. The mirror concentrates the resultant beam onto more than 120 fiber-optic cables, each measuring 3 mm in diameter, and distributes the fibers to 12 light fixtures covering 1,000 square feet in the building. The fixtures house two diffusion tubes (for dispersing the light from the fibers) alongside a high-temperature fluorescent tube. An electronic tracker adjusts the fluorescent tube's output so that the illumination level in the building does not vary with the strength of the sunlight. The system costs about $12 per square foot to install, but Sunlight Direct aims to reduce that to about $4. At the lower installed cost, the system would take only a few years to pay for itself. Besides the savings to the utility customer, hybrid solar lighting should ease overtaxed power grids during peak demand periods.