I often wonder how possible it will be to integrate solar into our environments beyond just using panels for rooftop solar and utility scale power. Many have hopes for solar wearables if can get improved and flexible solar materials. And I’m sure we’ve seen the attempts at smart phone and tablet cases to bring some extra juice to mobile devices on the go. Still the next practical step is probably stationary applications.
The University of California Riverside has installed 13 outdoor solar charging stations that double as canopied, café-style tables. The stations provide four 120 volt outlets and eight USB outlets with each table unit sporting two 265-watt solar panels. The system is paired with batteries that have a shelf life of 5 years and provide enough power to charge more than 150 mobile devices a day.
It’s a simple implementation of solar that the university did for Earth Week and as part of meeting its carbon neutrality goals. The trick with outdoor solar furniture is making it comfortable and aesthetically appealing. Typically we get materials designed for durability. Concrete tables and benches, and solar canopies that have a very functional and industrial flavor is what I often see and that’s close to what UCR created.
But what if we had colored solar panels, as some experimentation has looked at, and more importantly, flexible solar materials. For example, then we might be able to have retractable patio table umbrellas made of a flexible solar material that is a catchy color, say blue or sienna. Just a thought. Because with some innovative design I do think we could be nearing a point where we could see solar materials utilized in public and commercial settings that could help spur a market for non traditional uses of solar panels.