PV panels aren’t the most glamorous technology: They are usually hidden away on a rooftop, and when you can see them, they’re ugly. And inefficient. But what if they made architecture more beautiful? And what if they were more efficient, working even at night? Say hi to Rawlemon, a solar ball lens that is quickly making its way to market.
This perfectly spherical glass ball is the work of a German architect named André Broessel, who began working on it three years ago with the aim of making solar power more efficient and less expensive, a technology available to everyone, everywhere. “Our product is democratic,” he told me recently over email. “Imagine, we are conceiving autonomous products able to concentrate the light even during a cloudy day, which are generating sun powered energy wherever you are in the world. Energy for free.”
Well, not quite for free. But Rawlemon, by sheer force of numbers, has the power to outperform traditional solar panels by many thousands of times. In simple terms, here’s how it works. Broessel’s Palantir-esque globe is filled with water that magnifies the sun’s rays by more than 10,000 times, making it possible to harvest energy from the moon, or the sun on a cloudy day. Where are the PVs? The tiny panels are situated directly below the ball, where the magnified ray hits them.
At the most basic level, Rawlemon is a ball lens—a perfect sphere that refracts light into a powerful concentrated ray—and a mechanism that’s been around for centuries. In fact, you can even make a crude version using a piece of saran wrap and water, as demonstrated by this dude on YouTube.
But the sun and moon, of course, are constantly moving. So to more efficiently capture their direct rays—unlike PV panels, which usually lay in a static position—Broessel designed a microtracker that follows the course of the sun as it arcs across the sky, tilting the panels along with it. The tracking system, paired with the ball lens, make Rawlemon up to 70 percent more efficient than a typical solar panel.
“So why isn’t there a giant pivoting crystal ball on every rooftop yet?” I hear you whispering in awe. For one thing, manufacturing—and certifying—solar collection systems is a serious undertaking, involving yards of bureaucratic red tape. But as Broessel tells me, solar tech is also hard to market to normal people.