NexGEN SolarPads

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 2008 - $19,000

Solar power has long been seen as a viable alternative to fossil fuel-based power, but has remained too expensive to force a trend in the residential market, where outfitting your home with photovoltaic panels can cost up to $40,000. Current panels are themselves non-sustainable: they require a large amount of energy to manufacture, and the materials are non-recyclable.

This E-Team is looking to solve both problems with SolarPads, an inexpensive, recyclable photovoltaic panel. The design uses compound parabolic concentrators to widen the panel’s range and increase its concentration ratio, which means that fewer photovoltaic cells need to be used, lowering the cost. It also uses an inflatable wedge system that allows the panel to rotate to a position closest to the sun. Overall, the team is aiming for a panel that is 90% cheaper than similar solar panels.