Alameda, California, has a long history of welcoming advanced airborne machines: at various times, the city has been home to a Pan Am seaplane hub, a public airport called the San Francisco Bay Airdrome, and a major naval air station. All have since closed, but much of the related infrastructure — cavernous hangars, control towers, vast stretches of runway — remain.
A company called Makani Power decided to take advantage of these aviation leftovers and now occupies a hangar, tower, and fire station on the old naval station grounds. Founded by a trio of kiteboarders in 2006, Makani (Hawaiian for “gentle wind”) is perfecting a flying wind turbine that can capture wind at higher altitudes — where it’s more powerful and consistent — and turn it into energy on the ground. The idea: to deliver more energy with more consistency than conventional wind turbines, with lower costs, fewer materials, and a smaller footprint.
The company’s latest Airborne Wind Turbine prototype, Wing 7, just completed its first successful test flight last month. Attached by a tether to a base station, it flies in a loop at an elevation of 1300 feet, with flaps (like on an airplane wing) that are controlled by an onboard computer; rotors capture wind as it flows across the wing, converting it to electricity using small generators. Through the tether, electricity runs back to the ground and into the grid. On launch and landing, the wing hovers like a helicopter, and can be reeled back into the base station when conditions are less than optimal.
Because the entire wing operates at the high tip-speed of a conventional wind turbine, it’s more efficient at creating more power. Material costs are low. With its lightweight aluminum, glass, and carbon fiber, the kite-like wing is about 10 percent of a conventional turbine’s mass, with no need for a huge concrete tower or the safety radius normally required.
Makani plans to deploy its flying turbines on land, first with a 30-kilowatt turbine, the M30, meant for emergency or off-grid use, that will lay the foundation for a larger, utility-grade 600-kilowatt turbine, the M600. The larger turbine is designed for use in arrays like on conventional wind farms, but with less space and materials needed. With the M600, the company says it can access close to 70 percent of the continental U.S. (by contrast, conventional wind turbines can only be used in 16 percent of the continental U.S.). In flat, windy places like Kansas, where there’s easy access to the energy grid, the cost will be just a little less than conventional wind turbines, but in general, Makani’s airborne turbines are estimated at less than half the cost of conventional wind.
Though it’s years away, Makani’s ultimate goal is a 5-megawatt system, the M5, for offshore use over deep water, where conventional turbines aren’t viable. The company’s recent acquisition by Google — which has invested more than a billion dollars in renewable energy technologies, including wind farms, rooftop solar, and solar-thermal as part of its Google X research program — is a sign that flying wind power, as fanciful as it might seem, holds a lot of promise.
Modern solar collectors can concentrate only so much energy for safety’s sake: too much in one place and they risk cooking themselves. An IBM-led group is working on a new collector dish that could avoid that damage while taking a big step forward in solar power efficiency. The hundreds of photovoltaic chips gathering energy at the center will be cooled by the same sort of microchannel water cooling that kept Aquasar from frying, letting each chip safely concentrate 2,000 times the solar energy it would normally face. The collector also promises to do more with sunlight once it’s trapped: since the microchannels should absorb more than half of the waste heat, their hot water byproduct can either be filtered into drinkable water or converted into air conditioning.
As you might imagine, IBM sees more than just the obvious environmental benefit. When a receiver will generate about 25kW of energy while costing less to make through cheaper mirrors and structures, a fully developed solar array could be an affordable replacement for coal power that delivers greater independence — picture remote towns that need a fresh water supply. IBM doesn’t estimate when we’ll see production of these collectors beyond several prototypes, but the finished work will likely be welcome to anyone frustrated by the scalability of current solar energy.
Regular readers of ExtremeTech know that battery tech always seems to be standing just at the base of a mountain of progress, but can never quite start the climb. There are always new advancements, but never ones that seem like they’ll be put into consumer products anytime soon. So, it may be time to look for alternative power sources for mobile devices, perhaps a solar-powered smartphone screen.
Let’s face it, there is a lot of new and awesome battery technology on the horizon, but almost all advances seem to stay right on that horizon, out of reach of the general consumer. Meanwhile, solar power, though underutilized by society, has been around and kicking for quite some time. However, we haven’t harnessed it in the vast majority of devices — our phones and tablets use lithium-ion batteries, our Wiimotes use standard AAs, and we plug our laptops into a wall. Startup SunPartner Group, located in France, wants to change all that, and aims to attach a smartphone screen that collects solar power and delivers it to the phone. In fact, a transparent overlay has already been developed and is currently undergoing testing.
SunPartner isn’t the first tech company to step outside one sunny day, look up, and figure there has to be a way to use the Sun. In 2009, Samsung released a phone equipped with solar cells called the Samsung Crest Solar. It wasn’t a smartphone, and was actually considered a budget phone due to its low price of around $60. The phone was released in India, and was reportedly able to provide around 5-10 minutes of talk time power from around an hour sun.
The phone didn’t quite take off, in large part due to the solar cells being placed on the back of the phone. This meant that when sitting outside at a restaurant or cafe, for example, users had to place the phone face down on a table, missing their alerts. By placing the solar cells into a transparent screen, SunPartner has figured out how to allow people to use their phones while they are harnessing the power of the sun, rather than having to place them face down on a table and miss juicy texts and alerts.
You might think SunPartner would have to use transparent solar cells to accomplish this feat, but the company has found another solution. In its overlay, it alternates thin-film solar cells and standard transparent film. Rather than looking like a horizontal striped shirt, though, SunPartner employs the uses of small lenses that essentially bounce the image from underneath the opaque solar cells and help the image spread across the entirety of the screen. The lenses are also used to help focus the solar rays toward to the solar cells. At the moment, the prototype screens are around 82% transparent, with a transparency of 90% predicted for the future.
Currently, the tech is so cheap that it only adds a cost of around $2.30 per phone, and if used properly — leaving your phone face up on a table during a sunny day rather than in your pocket — can extend the life of a smartphone by around 20%, and can maintain its charge while idle in the sun. While 20% won’t change the world or free up electrical outlets at coffee shops, that would be the first real, major increase consumers will have received in a seemingly endless amount of years.
The overlays are estimated to hit the market sometime next year, with recognizable names like Nokia to incorporate the tech into its devices.
It has happened to all of us: you’re running around town all day only to look down and realize your phone’s battery is in the red, but you don’t have your charger and you’re not going to be home any time soon. What do you do? Panasonic has the answer with a protoype it showed at the Retail Tech Expo in Tokyo of a solar-powered inductive charging table. The table is able to juice your phone, or any other device with a Qi battery, by just setting it down.
Inductive charging has been around for a few years now, but this is the first time we’ve seen a wireless version. Back in 2010 we saw the first inductive charging power mat, made by Energizer, but it needed external power to charge the devices. Panasonic’s table is unique, however, because it charges via solar power collected on the table’s surface.
Another unique aspect is that the table’s charging panel connects straight to the battery, so you don’t even have to have the battery in the phone to charge it. There’s no word yet as to how long your device would have to sit on the table before it is fully charged.
Needless to say, you can’t cover the solar panel with a nice flower arrangement or tablescape. No, you can’t even put your device on the panels. Obviously, that would block the light and deplete its energy source. However, there’s a pretty good amount of room around the panel, so we think you’ll be fine.
Seeing as many of us carry a few gadgets around each day – iPod, cell phone, camera, e-book reader, etc. – it would be nice to have a universal source of power instead of having to plug four devices in each time you need to give your gadgets a little more juice. As Japantrends.com pointed out, the table could be useful to have in restaurants and cafes so people could stop by and get a jolt of power in addition to their jolt of caffeine.
This certainly does look like a table from the future, and it seems the future of solar-powered wireless-charging tables is not far off. Panasonic said it would begin selling the table in Japan by the end of this year or early next year. No word on when the U.S. market will see it.
The practical application of Some Shine Solar Energy Storage System is quite simple. You hang up the cool looking Solar Curtain on your window, and keep the battery-pack hooked to the base. It soaks in the solar energy during the daytime, stores it and uses it to replenish your gadgets at night. Hook up your stuff via the USB port and you’re done for the night. Me really , really likes this!
Designer: Ming-Ching Hsueh