Portable Solar Panels Bring Power To Remote Locations

When John Hingley decided to trek through some of the world’s most remote locations, he brought along a small portable solar panel to keep his computer, camera, and cell phone charged up. That thin, flexible device could be rolled up and stored in his back pack. It came in handy in Nepal, where access to electricity is so limited that just one cell phone charge can cost $5.00.

Portable Solar Panels
John Hingley stands next to his prototype portable solar panels. Photo Credit: Felix Clay/ The Guardian

While he was touring the world on foot, Typhoon Haiyan devastated Tacloban City, knocking out power for weeks. Even though the city’s hospitals has diesel generators, there was no fuel to rum them. What would happen, Hingley thought, if someone designed and built a large scale version of his portable solar panel? What if it could be airlifted to the scene of natural disasters, remote locations far from any electrical grid, or forward area military forces?

When he got back to England, he began developing just such a system. He has created a large steel container that contains a long spool of solar panels, all attached together on a strong flexible fabric that can be pulled out into a 200 foot long system in two minutes. The portable carpet-like solar system stores the electricity generated during the day in batteries installed inside the steel housing. “It is like a microgrid in a box,” Hingley tells The Guardian. “It has all of the components integrated into it that you need to run a 24 hour microgrid.”

The prototype had a capacity of 6 kilowatts — about twice that of a typical residential solar system. Hingley says the system can be expanded up to 18 kilowatts, which is enough to power a small community in some parts of the world. Future plans call for a much larger solar power unit. It will be the size of a shipping container and have a capacity of up to 150 kilowatts from an array that measures 16 feet wide and 650 feet long.

Hingley says his company, Renovagen, has received orders for three prototype systems from an unnamed client. He expects to have full regulatory approval in four months so he can start to make and sell his systems on the open market. The early versions cost between $70,000 and $130,000. Hingley says he expects prices to drop substantially as the business grows and the cost of solar and battery components comes down. Renovagen’s crowd source funding campaign has raised more than the original target. It has raised nearly $1,000,000 to date.

“The market for off grid energy is huge and growing,” Hingley says. “24% of the world is off grid, but everyone needs energy these days.” Perhaps portable solar panels are just what many places in the world need to reap the benefits of clean, renewable solar energy.

Source: The Guardian

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writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island. You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter.