Aug 19, 2011

i don't buy it

13-Year-Old Makes Solar Power Breakthrough by Harnessing the Fibonacci Sequence

This was the top-ranking post on today.  Sounds wonderful.  It'd be great if some breakthrough was made.  The kid is certainly smart and ambitious.  Problem is the whole breakthrough reads like bullshit.  I read through his 'report' which didn't go through peer review and it just sounds completely hokey.  The write-up sounds way too composed for a 7th grader.  That's fine his dad helped.  The sketches and drawings are ripped right from the illustrations in Wikipedia.  Fine we all use Wikipedia.

More problematic is the whole thing makes zero sense from a physical and geometric perspective.  Because he doesn't have a real research paper it's hard to understand his true physical setup and experimental procedure but it seems he's not measuring against a 'best-in-class' setup.  You certainly wouldn't build a roof and put cells on BOTH sides.  That cuts efficiency by around 50% right there. He's measuring volts instead of watts.  He hasn't taken into account the massive costs associated with the structure.  By default he has to string the PV in series which means an inverter for each panel (more cost, a lot more).

Even worse it's crazy how wholesale this story has been published and commented on in glowing terms.  People don't even have basic science skills to question this at all.  And it's kind of a flat out insult to the people attempting to do research in this area who work hard to improve these technologies.  This kind of article always has that implicit tinge of disdain for the scientists in a field. "Look this kid showed up all these researchers."

I'm happy to be proved wrong in this but I think we'll find out this was a hoax or is total bullshit in short order.

[Update] Well Gizmodo has published an article claiming that someone has posted a takedown of the science.  Unfortunately the blog post was in turn taken down presumably by the poster.  Google cache here. The gist is measuring voltage is wrong because it's not related to power and then the geometry of the test case is inefficient. The blog by the way is a really interesting read.  Loads of stuff on power gen.

[Update] Unfortunately the entire blog has been shuttered.  I guess the guy didn't want the notoriety.


Iron Yuppie said...

Rats - came over to mention this, and you already have it. Feel bad for the 13-year-old, because it's nice to see some creative thinking. But, yeah, pretty basic math errors, let alone all the issues with solar collection you have above.

C. Fuzzbang said...

Terribly unfortunate for the kid being pushed into the spotlight like that. A whole host of people should be ashamed. Primarily the media for not even doing some basic fact checking on this.