Weekend Experiment #1: Solar Power

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Photo courtesy of sabellachan

One of my personal gripes about research here in Irvine, is about how we aren't effectively utilizing two of our strategic Southern California resources: sun and traffic. Well this weekend, the first domino fell. I am happy to report that I successfully charged my PowerBook G4, a bluetooth GPS unit, and a Nokia N84 phone from the sun via a Brunton solar panel. It felt really ubiquitous because suddenly that nagging problem of power was *gone*.

Now, granted there was a lot more gear involved. The solar panel is about the size of a beach towel, but folds up to the size of a laptop. It outputs 12V so you can use it to charge a car battery, or use the new ubiquitous power supply, the cigarette lighter plug. Both the GPS unit and the phone came with car chargers, so that was a snap. The PowerBook was a little more tricky. I first tried to use a transformer to alter the 12V to 120V and then plug in the white Apple brick into it. But the loss of power in the (2!) transformers could not be compensated for by the solar panel. Instead I used an airplane seat power adaptor (which I have never had the opportunity to use). With a little help from a hack saw I managed to get it to fit into a car lighter adaptor that Paul Dourish had lying around. So with the airplane cable and the adaptor the power went straight to the powerbook without any transformers. Viola! Now the solar panel was enough to trickle charge the laptop.

I didn't do a good job of timing the charge, but in bright sunlight it took roughly about 30 minutes for a 10% charge, so back of the envelope says a full charge would take 5 hours, which is consistent with the solar panel documentation.

One can daisy chain the solar panels up to a total of three to increase power output, so that would presumably be enough to match wall power recharge time, and be enough to run the powerbook while plugged into the solar panel. Currently the powerbook has to be off/suspended for the charge to be able to keep up with the discharge. The solar panel costs about $350.00 right now, so a daisy chain of three ain't cheap.

But it was really really cool and it demonstrated to me that none of our infrastructure is built to support solar panels. Because there is very little way for me to actually use it on a day to day basis. However, since I'll be in Africa in two weeks....

(Stuff That I'm Messing With) Permanent Link made 9:54 AM | TrackBacks (0)

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