In MTH 116 (Pre-Calculus) we discuss some of the applications of a three dimensional parabaloid. The typical applications we cover usually include a satellite dish receiver, a parabolic microphone and a headlight.
The shape of the parabaloid is such that any type of wave or radiation, be it radio, sound or light is concentrated by the shape of the parabaloid to a point in the center called the focus.
Over spring break I saw a television program on a type of solar power generating system that uses the parabaloid shape to store solar radiation in order to generate a steady supply of electricity. A central tower is located at the focus of a field of mirrors arrayed into the shape of a parabaloid.
Molten salt in the central tower is heated to a high temperature (565 degrees Celsius in one example) by the concentrated solar energy reflected by the mirrors. The salt is then moved to a storage tank and on to the electrical generator which uses the extreme heat to produce steam and consequently electricity. Once the salt has cooled (but is still molten), it is pumped back to the tower to heat up once again.
The benefit of the molten salt system is that during the day, the solar radiation can be used directly to generate electricity, and at night, the heat stored in the molten salt is used. The hot molten salt can be stored in an insulated tank for up to a week and still be used to generate electricity independently of the solar radiation.
As these technologies are developed more fully, they can become more efficient both in terms of cost and power output.
Here are some links to information about these projects