Bringing electricity to the most remote rural areas of Ecuador, especially the Amazon, and thus improving the living conditions of peasants and indigenous people are María Iglesias, Dalena León and Ronny Velasteguí, inventors of the Energy Ball, main objectives.
In 2018—when they were still students—the three graduates of Yachay Tech University, created a sphere that increases the efficiency of solar panels, which won an internal Yachay contest. Then in 2020, they participated in the regional Hult Prize held in Bogotá, Colombia, and were among the top six winners.
The prototype they designed consists of a wooden base to which is placed a flexible solar panel (purchased through Amazon.com); on top of this is mounted a fluid-filled sphere, made from discarded plastic bottles. This device is connected to a portable external battery.
“Although there are projects to electrify the country, there are areas where it is impossible to get there, especially in the Amazon. We are looking for sustainable alternatives, because the lack of electricity is affecting access to education in these areas,” says Iglesias.
Solar panels are generally expensive compared to the amount of energy they supply, making it difficult to incorporate them large-scale into poorer areas. “A normal solar panel has a yield of 20%, that is, of all the energy it receives, it only manages to convert that percentage into electricity. Our device increases this performance by 20% more,” says León.
Energy Ball is based on an existing model that instead of plastic, uses a glass sphere. But using glass is very costly and would not be beneficial for use in rural communities. “What we did was take a plastic bottle, shape it and fill it with water,” adds León.
The water-filled plastic sphere makes it possible for all the sun’s rays, no matter which direction
they come from, to intensify. In addition, the sphere acts as a kind of magnifying glass that focuses the energy. Currently the prototype is capable of lighting a light bulb or charging a cell phone, since it generates five volts.
The idea is to improve the design and enlarge it to achieve greater capacity, which is why the inventors are looking for strategic partners to invest in the project. As the initiative has a social purpose, they are also talking with the Decentralized Autonomous Governments.
The goal for the next version of the Energy Ball is to be able to turn on no less than five light bulbs, so that people in rural areas can have electricity at night or turn on devices to study.
“We want to do tests in Cuenca, Guayaquil, Quevedo. A normal solar panel has its maximum performance at noon (due to the intensity of the sun). Our device has a solar panel in the shape of a sphere, so it doesn’t matter what time it is, it will always be collecting the maximum energy,” explains León.
The assembly of the current prototype cost less than $10, although if a larger and more powerful one is built, the idea is to not have it cost more than $30; it would still be extremely affordable compared to a normal solar panel that can cost more than $500. Another differentiating feature is maintenance. Energy Ball only needs to periodically have the water changed inside the sphere, so that the liquid does not fill with particles that obstruct the passage of light.
“Our long-term goal is that the sphere is made of recycled plastic and that the base is also made of reusable materials,” says Iglesias. They are also talking to an Amazon community to test the device.
In addition to the social benefit, Energy Ball would also serve to be used in camps. Its shape and its collapsible structure make it ideal to be used for activities such as hiking. The sphere can serve as a container for water and, in turn, provide the utility of producing electricity to charge devices such as cell phones.
“At this moment we are looking for alliances and seed capital to continue developing the prototype. We want to communicate with the communities and understand their needs, and know their conditions, if it rains a lot in the area or if they will need more or less training to handle the device,” says Iglesias.
Concept originated with the Spherical Sun Power Generator
The Spherical Sun Power Generator is a solar energy capture device designed by German architect Andre Broessel. Called the beta.ey, Broessel believes his invention is a solution capable of squeezing “more juice out of the sun.”
The actual development of the beta.ey has been conducted by Andre and Rawlemon Limited. They are a high technology company who develop and market next-generation mass concentrating photovoltaics (CPV) and concentrating thermal (CSP) modules.
The design, according to Broessel, should also enable the generator to harvest energy, day or night.
“The beta.ey comes with a hybrid collector to convert daily electricity and thermal energy at the same time. While reducing the silicon cell area to 25% with the equivalent power output by using our ultra-transmission Ball Lens point focusing concentrator, it operates at efficiency levels of nearly 57% in hybrid mode. At nighttime, the Ball Lens can transform into a high-power lamp to illuminate your location, simply by using a few LEDs. The station is designed for off-grid conditions as well as to supplement buildings’ consumption of electricity and thermal circuits like hot water.”
The technology can also integrate a hybrid collector that can harvest thermal and solar energy simultaneously.
How does it work?
The Spherical Solar Power Generator works by using a large transparent sphere to focus diffused sunlight onto a small surface area of mini-solar panels. Because the solar panels used on the device are so small, its relative efficiency is increased.
Using the same principles during the daytime, the beta.ey’s creators also claim it can be used to harvest energy from moonlight. Albeit at a much-reduced efficacy than sunlight.
How is it better than conventional photovoltaics (PV)?
beta.ey combines the geometry of a large transparent sphere with a dual axis tracking system and collector that, in theory, produces twice the yield of a conventional solar panel. This innovation is automatically more efficient than PV simply by virtue of its ability to collect as much solar energy as possible.
This is because for PV panels to reach close to their maximum potential they need to be as close to perpendicular to the light source as possible. This is only realistically achievable by being able to move the panel in two axes throughout the day.
Large commercial flat plate solar panel systems tend to have an efficiency of around 16 to 20%.
If the figures quoted by Rawlemon are to be believed, beta.ey could provide an incredible 57%.