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Professor's Solar Energy Technology Used by City of Chicago

April 21, 2004
Study finds that investment in renewable energy better for jobs as well as environment

MERCED, CA. — The City of Chicago recently announced a $5 million new initiative to place solar energy collectors on public buildings based on non-imaging technology discovered by UC Merced Professor of Natural Sciences and Engineering Roland Winston.

Standing before television news cameras on the factory floor of Solargenix Energy in Chicago during a recent news conference, entertainer Art Linkletter proclaimed the start of a new era in energy production. The reason: the highly efficient solar collectors invented by Winston. “We have, through Dr. Winston, a patent on the sun,” Linkletter said.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley had called the news conference to announce that Solargenix had just opened a factory in the city of Chicago as a result of economic incentives offered by the city. “This is an excellent example of what we can accomplish through the synergy of the city, the private sector and our universities,” Daley said.

Following on the heels of the Chicago city news conference, a report issued by researchers at UC Berkeley announced that investing in renewable energy such as solar, wind and the use of municipal and agricultural waste for fuel would produce more American jobs than a comparable investment in the fossil fuel energy sources in place today.

“Renewable energy is not only good for our economic security and the environment, it creates new jobs,” said Daniel Kammen, a professor in UC Berkeley's Energy & Resources Group and Goldman School of Public Policy. “At a time when rising gas prices have raised our annual gas bill to $240 billion, investing in new clean-energy technologies would both reduce our trade deficit and reestablish the U. S. as a leader in energy technology, the largest global industry today.”

While teaching and conducting research at the University of Chicago as a physics professor, Winston invented and developed the technology that Solargenix commercializes. Winston's invention uses an innovative optical surface called a compound parabolic concentrator to concentrate light more intensively than traditional optics. In some applications, this technology has proven the capability to concentrate sunlight up to 84,000 times the natural level of sunlight at Earth's surface. This exceeds the intensity of the surface of the sun by 15 percent.

Non-imaging optics serve as light funnels that collect and intensify radiation far better than do lenses and mirrors, Winston said. Lenses and mirrors produce almost perfect images at the focal point, but they blur and broaden the images away from the focus.

The technology has another advantage. It collects light from much of the sky, so it requires no moving parts to track the sun. Similarly, the technology also is used to enhance tracking solar collection systems. Conventional solar arrays must move over a range of 60 degrees from winter to summer in order to collect direct radiation from the sun.

“I'm driven by the mathematics of non-imaging optics, which is very pretty,” Winston said. “The fact that it is also useful is great. This makes high-temperature solar energy practical.”

A former chairman of the Physics Department at the University of Chicago, Winston left his professorship in 2003 to become a founding faculty member of the University of California, Merced.

“There's an opportunity in the United States to produce a tremendous amount of thermal and electric energy from the sun,” said Jeff Myles, Solargenix director of legal and administration. “At Solargenix, we know that Winston's inventions are going to enhance that capability and could lead to a revolution in new energy production.”

In coming to UC Merced, Winston intends to create a world-class renewable energy program at the new campus, which is currently under construction and expected to open next year in fall 2005. Founding the first major research university of the 21st century is as exciting as founding non-imaging optics, Winston said.

UC Merced, the 10th campus of the University of California system and the first major research university to be built in the United States during the 21st century, is scheduled to open in fall 2005. Planned ultimately to grow to a student population of 25,000, the university has a special mission to serve the educational needs of San Joaquin Valley residents. UC Merced already is serving area students through a concurrent admissions program with three Valley community colleges and through UC summer session courses at UC Merced centers in Fresno, Bakersfield and Atwater.