Solar Tarp – foldable, portable solar power.

California based Lipomi Research Group are working on creating a solar tarp – which would have myriad uses for society. Let’s learn more about how these upgraded solar panels could help parts of the world where they don’t have access to regular electricity – and some of the technological challenges they’re facing trying to complete the project.

About the Solar Tarp technology

Prototype Solar Tarp Sample - University of California
Prototype Solar Tarp Sample – University of California (source: theconversation.com)

The Lipomi Research Group are focused on “identifying ways to create materials with both good semiconducting properties and the durability plastics are known for – whether flexible or not”.  They’ve been tinkering with perovskite solar cells, which are 1/1000 the thickness of a silicon layer in a solar panel. 

Darren Lipomi of the Lipomi Group, who is also a Professor of Nanoengineering at the University of California, said that their goal is to create flexible solar panels which are as efficient as conventional silicon but don’t have some of the drawbacks of it.

The goal is to develop flexible solar panels which are thin, lightweight, and bendable. Lipomi is calling their idea a ‘solar tarp’ – which refers to a solar panel which can be expanded to the ‘size of a room’, but balled up to the size of a grapefruit when not in use. The issues here are finding a molecular structure to make the solar panels stretchable and tough – this involves replacing the silicon semiconductors with materials such as perovskite. 

They’re also taking a look at polymer semiconductors / organic semiconductors (based on carbon, and used in place of perovskites or silicon in a solar cell). These aren’t as efficient, but are far more flexible and extremely durable.

According to The Conversation, the sunlight that hits the earth in a single hour contains more energy than the whole planet uses in an entire year – so there’s plenty more work to do on improving how we utilise the sun! We’ll keep an eye on the solar tarp project and let you know when it reaches the next stage.

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Enova’s Community Solar Garden Signups

We wrote last year about the Byron Bay based community solar company Enova who became a generator and a reseller of renewable energy. They’re now launching a community solar garden which is an amazing idea for people who aren’t able to reduce their electricity bill by installing solar power. Let’s learn more about the Enova and their plan to revolutionise solar for people in apartments, renters, and many more…

Enova and the Community Solar Garden

Enova Solar Garden
Enova Solar Garden (source: Enova.com.au)

The official Enova website is currently accepting applications from both ‘hosts’ and ‘members’ – that is to say that if you have plenty of free space on your rooftop you could sign up as a host, or if you’re a renter or live in an apartment or can’t get solar for any other reason becoming a member is a great idea. According to the website, “Enova is set to build a 99kW solar system and “sell” the panels to customers who can’t have solar at home”

For the most part it won’t be a ‘solar garden’ per se – most of the power looks like it’ll be generated from rooftop solar. 

According to Echo Net Daily, a Byron Bay based newspaper, a visit from Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy Mark Butler met with a great response for the Enova team. Mr Butler visited Enova HQ last Tuesday (June 12) and had some positive things to say about the plan:

Mr Butler said he was ‘excited to support innovative projects like Enova’s Solar gardens’.

The gardens will  ‘make an important contribution towards reducing carbon emissions and transition to a clean energy future, in addition to allowing access to the benefits of solar for renters.’ Mr Butler added. 

With regards to the concept of a ‘solar garden’, the more literal of us are in luck. A feasibility study in Eastern Australia is currently doing research into solar gardens for renters and how viable the concept is. According to EnergyMatters, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has given $240,000 to the $555,00 project – which will be undertaken by the Institute of Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney.

We’ll be sure to keep you posted on how Enova’s community solar garden goes and also keep an eye on the feasibility study into the ‘real’ solar gardens. Some more great news for community solar!

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Maverick by 5B – a prefab, low-cost solar array.

Australian company 5B have launched the Maverick (MAV) portable solar farm – their easily-transported large-scale portable solar farm with a continuous array design. Because of this, a solar farm built with MAV can generate between 180 – 200% more MWh per hectare than fixed tilt or single axis tracking designs. This could be a game changer for farmers, remote communities, film crew, or anyone who needs to use a large amount of power and don’t have grid access. Launched in July this year, the ‘solar farm in a box’ has been gaining traction for anyone looking for portable solar in Australia. 

Maverick Portable Solar Array by 5B
Maverick Portable Solar Array by 5B (source: 5b.com.au)

Maverick Portable Large-Scale Solar Farm

The Maverick is a continuous array, which means DC cables don’t need to be trenched, saving setup time and reducing the potential for any errors when setting up. According to the 5B website, two people are able to roll out a 12kW MAV in ten minutes with ‘standard site vehicles’. Here are some further stats on the MAV:

  • Ground mounted DC solar array of 32 or 40 PV modules.
  • Any 60/72 cell standard framed PV module can be used if you want to choose (they come with Jinko panels by default).
  • Each MAV weighs approximately three tonnes. 
  • MAV is 5m wide and 16m/20m long (32/40 modules) once deployed.
  • Modulates oriented in a concertina shape at 10-degree tilt (electronically configured and ready for integration at site).
  • Simple deployment via a forklift and 2-3 people. As per the 5B tagline – “100 kilowatts fully installed before lunch, and 1 megawatt in a week” – pretty impressive!

They’re modular as well; you can ship four 32-module MAVs in a standard ISO 20 foot container (similar to the Renovagen solar carpet we discussed yesterday)

Click here to download the MAV product brochure. You can also view a video from 5B below which shows how the Maverick solar array works. Have you had any experience with the MAV? How did you find it? Please let us know in the comments. 

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