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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Portable solar panels camping – fridges, reviews

Portable solar panels camping – if you’re thinking about a portable solar panel purchase for your campsite – to power laptops, charge phones, or even run a small fridge – you’re on the right article! Let’s take a look at the three main styles of portable solar panel and which you should choose.

Portable Solar Panels Camping

You have three main choices with regards to portable solar panels – and your choice depends on your unique circumstances.

Portable Folding Panels – the best option if you only camp a few times a year or you’re on a budget. These panels are quite heavy and inflexible, but they’re very simple to move to find a spot in the sun. Unless you’re a pro, we generally recommend starting here. 

Solar Blankets – the mid-range choice. More expensive than portable folding panels but worth the extra investment if you’re a frequent traveller – especially if you’re concerned about space and weight. It’s extremely simple to hang a solar blanket over the hood of your car, over your tent, on a nice sunny rock…

If you are going to have a look at the solar blanket option make sure you pay a little extra for a quality brand as these solar blankets aren’t the cheapest to begin with. If you’re going to invest in them it’s worth your while to get something that will last!

We can recommend the 112W SOLAR BLANKET AMORPHOUS CELLS from Redarc. 

Solar panels camping - 112W SOLAR BLANKET AMORPHOUS CELLS Redarc
Solar panels camping – 112W SOLAR BLANKET AMORPHOUS CELLS (source: REDARC.com.au)

Fixed Panels – for the grey nomad or the frequent traveller, fixed panels have very low setup and are very easy to get working. You do need to park your trailer (or however/wherever you have fixed them) in the right spot to get as much sun as possible – which can be a little annoying. But in terms of performance vs. ease of use, these are the Cadillac of portable solar.

Alternatives for Portable Solar Panels

Although Portable folding panels, solar blankets and fixed panels comprise the bulk of what we’ll recommend for solar camping, there are a couple of caveats we should mention befor eyou go and buy anything.

If you’re not sure how much power you’ll require we can recommend the REDARC Solar calculator selection tool which is a fantastic tool for those planning a getaway!

If you want something simple just to charge a phone or a power bank we recommend giving Solar Paper by YOLK a look.

Any questions or feedback on any of these products? Do you have an issue with your solar powered camp? Please let us know in the comments and we’d be happy to help!

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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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Lightsource BP offering residential PPAs

Lightsource BP, a UK based solar and smart energy solutions company, is preparing to move into the Australian market where they will offer residential rooftop PV solar power at no upfront cost – instead using the PPA (Power Purchase Agreement) model usually reserved for large-scale solar installs. 

Lightsource BP Solar in Australia

Lightsource BP in Australia
Lightsource BP in Australia (source: bp.com)

Lightsource Labs Australia Pty Ltd (LS Labs) have applied to the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) to launch their product, asking for an individual exemption to hold a retailer authorisation. The application says that LS Labs could launch their product in NSW, SA, QLD, and VIC within a couple of weeks, so all eyes on the regulator to see if they’re happy to grant the exemption.

The way LS Lab’s product will work is that they will supply, install, operate and maintain a solar array, batter and smart metering system to homes, and then sell the renewable power to the client at a fixed price under a PPA model. According to Renewables Now, the period of PPA could be up to 20 years and price per kWh will depend on the terms of each individual contract (i.e. it’ll be cheaper depending on how long the contract is). They also note that customers will be offered the opportunity to buy the system at any time after the second year of the PPA.

RenewEconomy is reporting that Lightsource BP partnered with French company Edf in the UK – using LG Chem batteries as part of the ‘Sunplug’ program. These PPAs were around 9.9p/kWh (~$0.18 AUD) so it’ll be interesting to see how this fares in the Australian market. 

Last month, Lightsource BP acquired Ubiworx Systems to help support a plan for the global launch of a smart-home solution. Kareen Boutonnat, COO of Lightsource BP, said at the time that the “power of the home” will be very important with regards to shaping the world’s “new energy future” – a situation where the energy market transcends monitoring and controlling of consumption, turning ‘smart homes’ into ‘genius homes’ (as we call them). Will be exciting to see where this goes over the next few years! 

 

 

 

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Solar Gardens – ‘ground solar’ – ARENA funding.

Those unable to get traditional solar systems installed on their roof may wish to take a look at the upcoming solar gardens scheme we will see in Australia. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) are funding a trial of the ‘ground solar’ in (mostly) regional areas of NSW, Queensland and Victoria.

Solar Gardens – Alternatives to Roof Solar

Solar Gardens in Australia
Solar Gardens in Australia (source: ARENA)

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, those without a rooftop who still want to invest in solar power will be in luck if they’re based in Blacktown, Shoalhaven, Byron Bay, Townsville, or Swan Hill – ARENA and ‘other participants’ are providing around $550,000 in funding to assist the trial.

Dr Liz Develin, the NSW Department of Planning and Environment’s deputy secretary of energy, water and portfolio strategy (wonder if she has to buy extra long business cards?) discussed how the department are hoping to achieve with the rollout:

“We are trialling solar gardens with the aim of helping renters, low-income households and those living in apartments save on their energy bills,” she said.

“Blacktown is a hotspot for rooftop solar and we are really excited to see how this trial goes. The average Western Sydney household with a 4-kilowatt solar system on their roof could already be saving up to $900 a year.”

Specifics on the scheme are still a little thin on the ground (sorry…) but the solar gardens are ‘generally’ under 100kW so as to keep the STCs (small-scale renewable energy generation certificates). The University of Technology Sydney’s Institute for Sustainable Futures and the Community Power Agency will lead this project.

Solar gardens are growing faster than any other segment of solar power in the US (200MW of new capacity was rolled out in 2016) – so perhaps this is the start of a revolution where the word ‘solar’ doesn’t necessarily conjure up the image of panels on a roof. I have no doubt we’ll see blockchain technology integrated or, for the bigger gardens such as those at mid-large size apartment blocks, some microgrids available to help balance demand.

Are you interested in applying to join the solar garden trial? Watch this space. More info to come as we have it!

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