Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Research Focuses on "Redhouses" and Solar Electricity

Sure, you've heard of greenhouses, but what about redhouses? We interviewed Carley Corrado this month about her postdoctoral fellowship work in Sue Carter's lab on Luminescent Solar Concentrator (LSC) windows, to be used to construct electricity-generating greenhouses. The greenhouses are very noticeable, being that they glow bright red.

Carley Corrado and Sue Carter 

Carley explains how the "redhouses" work: "The dye absorbs green light (a section of the solar spectrum where plants do not absorb) and emit red light. The red light serves two functions: 1) It is concentrated onto the solar cell, thus increasing the power generated from the cell by 40%; and 2) It increases the amount of red light onto the plant, thus stimulating earlier flowering and fruiting, and other interesting effects. We have built two test greenhouses, one red and one control, so that we may monitor the plant's growth under the altered spectrum of light compared to the control. We are also doing a trial at a greenhouse in Watsonville. The results have been very promising, so we are preparing to do a larger trial at a commercial vegetable growers' greenhouse beginning in April."

According to Corrado, redhouses reduce electricity costs at "a much faster payback time than typical solar panels because of the enhanced power generated from the concentrated light onto the cell as well as the absence of additional structural costs since the panels are built directly into the greenhouse. It also allows solar energy harvesting from land simultaneously being used for crop production, thus allowing for a second harvest."

Why solar? "The coolest thing about solar energy is that once you install it, electricity flows free like the river," Carley said. "The price of solar has dropped dramatically in recent years, making it an investment that will lead to substantial savings over time. It also changes the dynamic of a centralized power producer (perhaps owned by "the 1%") that profits significantly from every single home being connected to a grid, with no other choice but to pay the piper. When a business or home converts to being a power producer, they become free from that constraint. Thus solar is also a step away from concentration of wealth, and toward power to the people.

They are currently conducting experiments with redhouses in Watsonville and on campus. To learn more about their work, please email Carley.

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