I Want a Portable Solar Panel For Christmas

The author outlines his idea for a multi-use portable solar panel.

| August/September 1998

  • 168-portable-solar-panel-01.jpg
    The proposed portable solar panel(s) would have an integrated power controller enabling a range of uses.

  • 168-portable-solar-panel-01.jpg

Here's an idea that's been in the back of my mind for a number of years now. I'm getting tired of dreaming about it and wonder if my broadcasting the vision will make it a reality sooner.

I want a silicon on silicon sandwich, a portable solar panel with an integrated computer chip power controller. Modular, so that I can clip them together and power a house. Or a vehicle. Small enough so that I can carry one in a backpack. Or a pocket. Ontario Hydro now produces something called an En-R-Pak which is a modular, stand-alone PV system with battery and inverter. It's about as big as a picnic cooler and costs nearly $1000. But a picnic cooler strikes me as more than a little unwieldy. I'm thinking small.

It should be solid, hut not too heavy, a chunk in my hand, smaller than a paperback book, and include the PV cell with a clear, unbreakable cover, the power controller, and a battery. The power controller should be built on a chip, and the controls would look like a multitester so that I can monitor amps/volts, AC and DC, input and output. The removable battery would be light, rechargeable, and recyclable. It would have a charge indicator so that I could see how close to empty I am running and a set of connectors to adapt to as many kinds of plugs and sockets as possible.

It would be able to handle all kinds of appliances, automatically adjusting to the solar input and the electrical load. I'd be able to dial up just the optimum amperage and voltage I need for the CD player or any hand power tool. I could plug into any grid system in the world with the power controller and optimize that current for the highest efficiency of the appliance I need to use. I could recharge all my batteries, from dry cell AAAs, to A, B, C, D and 12-volt DC, and put out any variety of AC. A Solar Brick (copyright, trademark, patent applied for) I can fit in my pocket should cost less than twenty bucks. I could use it to power my Walkman or laptop, a flashlight or cellular phone. An emergency household system might cost a couple  hundred dollars and be would be able to supply light and communications during blackouts and brownouts and recharge all the household batteries in between. It is within our current technology, however, to build a smaller, more versatile product, and meet those price points.

Let's just imagine that I get one of these PV systems, the solar Philosopher's Stone, for Christmas. What would happen if then everybody could get one in their stocking? What would the economic effects be if we were all suddenly able to buy a lifetime's supply of electricity through PV solar for, say, $10,000, more or less?

That's 40 years of monthly electrical bills of $20 or so. Put the panels on your roof and say goodbye to the utility, unless you want to sell electricity back to the grid, make a little pocket change, and lower the payback period by a decade or two. Even renters could hang the panels out of south-facing windows and go into business. Homeless people and hikers could use them in the alleys and the mountains. That's what I want for Christmas. And a percentage of the gross profits. Please.


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