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Roll Out the Solar
Jamais Cascio, 29 Jun 04

Wired reports on the US Army's tests of the flexible solar panels developed by Iowa Thin Film Technologies. The solar film can be embedded in soft building material, providing an ongoing source of electricity to allow soldiers in the field to recharge the ever-increasing number of batteries required for their hardware. This could provide a tactical advantage over the current system of either carrying extra batteries or diesel generators. A largish tent could produce up to 1 kilowatt, sufficient to power lights, laptops, and other gear.

Such technology would have clear civilian/commercial use, but so far, Iowa Thin Film is only making the tents available to the military. For consumer use, they sell the useful (but somewhat less innovative) rollup solar panels in various sizes. Intended to function as battery chargers, these flexible panels aren't really intended to let you bring your office into the wilderness. Nonetheless, the flexibility and relatively light weight -- the biggest one only weighs just under 2 lbs -- make them perfect for emergency and relief uses.

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I'd like to see a suite of low-voltage appliances to go along with this:

Rechargeable LED lamps. Just bright enough to let you walk around a tent and perhaps prepare a meal. A variant might have clip to allow you read a book.

A "power assisted" solar water purification still. Stored solar electricity probably wouldn't have enough umph to evaporate water, but small fans and vibrations and perhaps a heat pipe could make the still much more efficient.

Posted by: Stefan Jones on 29 Jun 04



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