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No Problem Too Big: How Ingenuity Beat the Solar Industry’s Toughest Challenges

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A mere 93 million miles from Earth, a nuclear fireball we call the sun fuels everything on our planet — including an array of opportunities for the solar mirror division of Replex Plastics.

It all started with a question: Since solar panels use light to create electricity, and since mirrors reflect light, could mirrors be used to increase the amount of electricity that solar panels generate?

The simple answer was “yes”. But in the world of solar energy, things are rarely so simple.

Three Obstacles with No Simple Solutions

First, the utility industry demands that equipment used in its plants — like the mirrors that Replex proposed installing to boost solar output — come with 20-year warranties to match the terms of their peculiar financing mechanism.
Warranty your parts. A simple task for, say, a company that makes copper pipes and knows exactly how those pipes will behave over the course of their lives.

Replex, however, had to develop new technology, predict and test how that technology would hold up over the course of two decades, and then write a warranty around that prediction.

Not so simple.

The second hurdle was a question whose answer, again, existed only in theory. Will the extra light reflected by the mirror cause the solar module to fail prematurely?
The third challenge was uniform distribution. In order for PV modules to work, it’s imperative that the light is distributed evenly across the modules. Mirrors are stationary. That part is easy. The Earth, however, spins on its own axis at 460m/s (1,000 mph), while whizzing around the sun at 30 km/s (67,000 mph) in a solar system that’s spinning around the center of the galaxy at nearly 220 km/s (490,000 mph). Viewed by an observer sitting beside a solar module, the sun’s position in the sky is constantly changing every second.
Did we mention that challenges in this industry are rarely simple?

Answers Found in Relationships and Ingenuity

Just as the sun fuels the Earth, relationships fuel Replex. Our finest work occurs when we harness the minds of the people around us.

For the first challenge, we solved the warranty riddle by collaborating with experts at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland to study lifetime and durability of our mirrors.
The second problem dealt with the question of whether extra light from the mirrors would harm the panels. The answer was “sort of.”
The sun emits visible light that can generate electricity, but it also produces harmful ultraviolet rays. Since its inception, Replex has survived on ingenuity — creating solutions that didn’t previously exist to deal with problems that hadn’t previously been encountered.

So what did we do? We developed a brand new mirror that absorbs the harmful UV light while reflecting electricity-generating visible light.

Finally came the overwhelming third task of uniformly distributing the reflected light when the source changes angles and elevation throughout every hour of every day of the year.
Abandoned, But Not Lost

That problem went into the Replex thought machine — the place where seemingly insurmountable challenges go to die.

Before the challenge could meet its solution, however, the industry changed. The price of solar modules plummeted from about $3 per Watt to 60 cents per Watt, negating the need for us to boost the output of solar panels with mirrors — and so the project was abandoned.

Along the way, however, we learned how to produce UV-absorbing mirrors and how to gauge the life expectancy of mirrors that hadn’t yet been created. We also learned about the nature of the solar resource; an important lesson for future skylight projects.

Most important, we learned that when we stick to our core principles of ingenuity, innovation and collaboration, there is no problem in the world — or the solar system — that a great company can’t overcome.

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11 Mount Vernon Avenue
Mount Vernon, OH 43050
sales@replex.com 
1-800-886-8847 (U.S.A Only)
1-740-397-5535

 

 

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