Future

Could A Glass Sphere Revolutionize Solar Power?

A German-Spanish startup has created technology it says is so effective turning light into energy that it can also utilize moonbeams and office building windows.

betaray
betaray

BARCELONA — Looking into a glass ball has always meant looking into the future, speculating, daring to be visionary. But André Brössel, the German-born head of a Barcelona-based start-up called Rawlemon, has given the term a whole other meaning.

His firm has developed futuristic solar collectors — collectors that look very different from the usual installations. They are not flat, right-angled panels, but spheres. The role of the glass balls turns out to be much the same as that of classic collectors: to turn light into electrical current.

Like large lenses, the transparent liquid-filled glass spheres collect rays of light. Depending on the diameter of the sphere, fire point increases up to 20,000 times. Photovoltaic cells and heat-driven mini-generators transform the energy into current.

The light concentration resulting from this principle is so effective that Rawlemon’s collectors don’t only work when the sun is shining, but when it’s cloudy and even at night.

Yes, after sundown, the balls can even gather moonlight and transform it into electrical energy.

With regard to the solar panels presently in use in Germany, Rawlemon technology has two big advantages. For one, it delivers constant, efficient current because sunlight is bundled in the spheres. What’s more, they are designed to pivot so that the photovoltaic modules and thermal generators are always optimally aligned to the sun.

In a mere fourth of a square meter, prototypes are already creating as much current as traditional installations filling a square meter of space. In diffused light, this strength is particularly significant.

View from your window

The second advantage is that the Rawlemon solutions are real “lookers.” They are the top models in solar energy production. The glittering spheres in their elegant casings are a hit visually; and Brössel’s training as an architect and his high aesthetic standards play a key role in their popularity.

But is the technology suitable for mass production?

Since it was founded three years ago, the start-up has made huge strides in getting the product ready for the mass market. "Beta.ey," the first serial product, is due out in September. It’s a hip solar charger equipped with a glass ball about the size of the ones used by fortune tellers, and it uses solar current to charge mobile phones.

The funding for all this is as innovative as the gadgets: Rawlemon, working via the Indiegogo website, uses crowdfunding.

Another application called "Beta.ray" is presently in the prototype stage. Including the mount and glass sphere the device is around two meters high and should provide enough solar energy to charge an electric car. When there is no car charging up, Beta.ray saves the energy in a large battery that acts as buffer.

But both these products are mere steps towards Brössel’s main aim: "I want to develop Rawlemon technology to the point that it can be built into large windows, for example in office buildings." With an efficiency factor of over 50% the elements would change incoming light into a hybrid of current and thermal energy.

"A building equipped like that would create more energy than it used," says Brössel. "Over and above that, three fourths of the sun’s rays would be collected so that the building could be cooled in a natural way, particularly in the summertime."

In four to five years, Rawlemon wants to start serial production of these facade elements. Looking into a glass ball would then replace the view out the window for many office workers.

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Geopolitics

Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3

-Analysis-

LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.


Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

commons.wikimedia.org

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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