Dec 312013

It’s the end of the year, and the news cycle slows down significantly as the year winds down. But even though the news is stocked full of year-end lists, there have also been a good number of interesting solar tidbits — enough to flesh out one last Solar Everywhere for 2013. Read on to see how we’re winding the year down with solar in unexpected place.

solar smokersSolar for smokers: Leave it to France to use solar power to help with the problem of smoking bans. Over at the Energy Collective, Boyd Arnold writes about how the French government is helping smokers cope with a ban on indoor smoking: outdoor solar parasols. Boyd writes: “Their solar-powered parasols create heat from the solar power for those under the parasol, and absorbs the cigarettes. This dual function provides a seamless integration of solar innovation while catering to the needs of smokers and government policy.” The parasols also relieve restaurants and bars of the need to rely on gas-powered heaters to keep smokers warm during the winter months.

solar tentSolar tents: In the first — and sillier — of two stories this month about solar-powered habitats, Inhabitat points us to Bang Bang Tents, which are designed to help make festival-going or car-camping a little more electrified. The four-person tents “come equipped with a solar panel that can be slid into a pouch on the exterior of the tent. The 5W solar panel trickle charges a lithium battery bank that has a USB charging adapter and can charge most low voltage devices. Use the solar panel and battery backup to charge cameras, phones, or computers or use them to run speakers and LED lights.” At £249.95 (US$415), they’re not cheap, but would certainly help you stand out at the campground.

solar shelterSolar shelters: We often say that solar is a force for good in the world — but usually that’s because solar homeowers save money and reduce their emissions. IKEA, however, has developed flat-pack, solar-powered shelters for use by refugees. The shelters are everything you’d expect from IKEA: quickly assembled, spacious, cleanly designed — and are also powered by the sun. After six months of lobbying, IKEA has gotten the Lebanese government toapprove a test run of the shelters for refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war and suffering in the intense Lebanese winter.

solar lights 1Solar lights overseas: Putting the sun to work at night is in some ways the holy grail of the solar boom, since it means the development of affordable, reliable battery technologies. One of the earliest places that solar batteries have taken off is in the solar lights market, and two companies this month helped bring light to regions that desperately needed it. First, the Estonian nonprofit Andakidz sent a team of engineers to the Philippines to provide solar lights to villages devastated and left powerless first by an earthquake and then three weeks later by Typhoon Haiyan.

solar lights 2Second, Panasonic has committed to sending 100,000 of the company’s solar lanterns to regions without electricity, and engaged the public and 11 artists from around the world to design paper solar lantern covers as a way of spreading the word about how solar can help meet some of people’s most basic needs.

solar scooter chargerSolar scooters: Solar Tribune offers us a brief glimpse at a new solar-powered charging station for electric scooters, from Current Motor, a Michigan-based scooter manufacturer. The company’s Super Scooters can run for 50 miles on a charge, and are then recharged in about six hours by a solar-powered charging station.

ugly solar outfitSolar clothing: Last but certainly not least, Grist points us to a new fashion item that incorporate solar panels into the design, for better or worse. The new prototype Wearable Solar outfits, are the result of a collaboration between Dutch professor Christiaan Holland, fashion designer Pauline van Dongen and solar expert Gert Jan Jongerden. Grist’s Holly Richmond explains that the outfits are supposed to be able to charge a phone in two hours of wearing, but nails the description: “Unfortunately, the clothes are — how do we say this nicely? — really ugly.”

Here’s looking ahead to a solar-filled 2014 — thanks for reading!

The post Solar Everywhere, Dec. 2013: Refugee Shelters, Ugly Dresses & More appeared first on Solar Power.

Nov 042013

solar iphone chargerLast time we spoke of Apple and solar power in the same sentence, it was in September, when we shared a link to a job posting from Apple that hinted at the need for solar engineers to work on a new Apple product.

Well, it looks like Apple is continuing down that path: PV-Tech is reporting that Apple just filed for a a patent that would allow iPhones and iPads to recharge using solar power.

The patent covers “power management systems in electronic devices for accepting power from power adapters and/or solar panels.”

As PV-Tech reports:

The system would accept direct current (DC) from solar panels, and AC current using a system micro controller (SMC), to an AC-DC adapter, so devices can use both solar power and an adapter.

It uses existing technologies including maximum power point tracking (MPPT) and would not use a converter circuit, allowing adapter and solar power use simultaneously to power devices or recharge batteries.

Whatever device Apple is working on would allow users to recharge using either the sun or the wall, whichever is more convenient or accessible.

There’s no real “range anxiety” concept associated with solar-powered phones (that we know of), otherwise we’d have to go ahead and call this the Chevy Volt of phone chargers. But realistically, this is yet another cool way to spread the word about solar.

DIY solar iPhone charger photo CC-licensed by Flickr user Bryan Lee.

The post Apple Takes the Next Step to a Solar iPhone with New Patent appeared first on Solar Power.

Sep 092013

To some extent, solar power has long had a gimmicky side — look no further than this solar-powered “dancing flower” or the Nivea skincare ad that includes a solar panel to charge your phone.

But at the same time, these unbelievably broad applications of solar as a technology, as a power source, are also key to its success. You can use a solar panel to power just about anything these days. As Zachary Shahan at CleanTechnica wrote about that Nivea ad: it means that “solar is becoming mainstream.”

In the last few days, I’ve come across a good number of examples of just how mainstream solar is becoming, as solar-powered doo-dads of many kinds hit the newswires. In no particular order:

•  Solar Clothes Dryer: Today, German appliance manufacturer Miele unveiled its T881 EcoComfort clothes dryer, which connects to a home’s central heating system and then to a rooftop solar installation to dry clothes with clean energy. The system is pictured below, and according to Inhabitat, this dryer-to-rooftop solar setup gives the machine an “A+++ energy efficiency rating, which is up to 80 percent more efficient than competing clothes dryers.”

solar clothes dryer schematic

Schematic for Miele’s solar-powered clothes dryer

•  Solar laptop: Last month, Solaptop unveiled the specs on what it’s calling an “all-terrain off-road sport utility laptop” — a $400, solar-powered, Linux-based and waterproof computer.

solar laptop

Solaptop’s solar-powered, rugged laptop

•  Solar travel by air and sea: When the Solar Impulse landed its cross-country flight from San Francisco to New York last month, it marked a pretty momentous achievement for solar flight, and drew comparisons to Elon Musk’s achievement with Tesla (though the Solar Impulse was not, as IEEE’s Spectrum reminds us, the first cross-U.S. solar-powered plane flight). The Guardian offers a broad look at solar-powered travel, from Solar Impulse to the solar-powered motorboat the MS Tûranor PlanetSolar, which circumnavigated the world between September 2010 and May 2012 (20 months to travel around the world is fairly equivalent in speed to the Solar Impulse’s 24-hour trip time between Washington, D.C., and New York City).

• Solar drones: While the rest of the world was talking about the miraculous XXX-hour flight of the solar-powered airplane mentioned in the article above, The Economist was putting together this look at solar-powered drones, unmanned aircraft powered by solar cells that could be used to “survey pipelines and power cables, perform aerial filming for anyone from television news stations to estate agents, monitor fires, assist in search-and-rescue operations” and more.

• Not-exactly-solar bikes: The two products that got me thinking about this post were electric bikes, namely something called “The Beast, which is a bamboo-framed, electric-powered mountain bike, and the NTS 2×4 electric Cargo Bike (pictured below). Granted, these are not solar-powered, but as electric vehicles, it’s just the easiest thing in the world to plug them in to your solar-powered home and create a zero-carbon mode of transport (which doesn’t really answer for me the question of why you really need an electric bike anyway, but then I live in a pretty flat place…).

electric cargo bike

NTS’s 2×4 electric Cargo Bike

With all these applications of solar tech already on the market, I can’t wait to see what my next “Solar Everywhere” roundup will bring.

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