Clean Energy Breakthrough
Washington, DC — In a U.S. patent application, a little-known Maryland inventor claims a stunning solar energy breakthrough that promises to end the planet’s reliance on fossil fuels at a fraction of the current cost – a transformation that also could blunt global warming.
Inventor Ronald Ace said that his flat-panel “Solar Traps,” which can be mounted on rooftops or used in electric power plants, will shatter decades-old scientific and technological barriers that have stymied efforts to make solar energy a cheap, clean and reliable alternative.
“This is a fundamental scientific and environmental discovery,” Ace said. “This invention can meet about 92 percent of the world’s energy needs.”
His claimed discoveries, which exist only on paper so far, would represent such a leap forward that they are sure to draw deep skepticism from solar energy experts. But a recently retired congressional energy adviser, who has reviewed the invention’s still-secret design, said it’s “a no brainer” that the device would vastly outperform all other known solar technology.
Ace said he is arranging for a national energy laboratory to review his calculations and that his own crude prototypes already have demonstrated that the basic physics for the invention work.
If the trap even comes close to meeting his futuristic vision, its impact could be breathtaking: It could reorder the world’s energy landscape, end the global economic drag of soaring energy costs, and eventually curb greenhouse gas emissions that are blamed for climate change.
That all might sound rather rosy, since the previously undisclosed invention has yet to be constructed and fully tested. But John Darnell, a scientist and the former congressional aide who has monitored Ace’s dogged research for more than three years and has reviewed his complex calculations, has no doubts.
“Anybody who is skilled in the art and understands what he’s proposing is going to have this dumbfounding reaction: ‘Oh, well it’s obvious it’ll work,’” said Darnell, a biochemist with an extensive background in thermodynamics.
“Ron has turned conventional wisdom about solar on its head,” he said. “He thinks outside the box.”
An independent inventor working from his home outside the nation's capital, Ace said that his filing culminated years of research into ways to efficiently capture and store solar energy.
In recent interviews and redacted excerpts from his patent application, he said that his invention can be used to retrofit conventional nuclear- or fossil fuel-fired power plants to produce electricity at about 2 cents per kilowatt-hour. That alone would be a staggering advance, slashing the average wholesale cost of power by two-thirds and the cost of solar energy by up to ninefold – estimates that Ace called conservative.
But that's just the beginning.
A separate rooftop version, which Ace believes ultimately will power most homes and businesses, would initially provide cheap heating and hot water. Soon, he said, equipment for those traps will be able to convert solar energy to electricity, air conditioning and, if enough panels are installed, to produce excess energy to sell to utility companies. Consumers will be able to reap enough savings on their utility bills to recover their costs within two to four years, a performance that far surpasses photovoltaic solar panels that are gaining a market toehold worldwide, Ace said.
His traps also could for the first time provide a viable way to operate power plants by collecting energy above 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit – the heat needed to drive the turbines that generate electricity. Such high-temperature plants would significantly top the efficiency of conventional nuclear-, coal- and gas-powered plants, further reducing costs, he said.
Higher-temperature collection in all of these uses, he said, would overcome one of the tallest barriers to a solar age: the inability to develop cheap, long-term storage of thermal energy from the sun. Ace said that his invention would allow weeks of high-temperature storage at one-tenth to one-hundredth of the current cost, meaning that solar power systems could generate electricity uninterrupted during lengthy stints of cloudy weather.
His traps will be so efficient that they can be used even in less sunny regions, he said.