Traditional solar panels are heavy, relatively difficult to install, quite bulky, and also take up a lot of space; space that could be used for other purposes when solar panels are no longer required. A company (Renovagen) managed to solve most of these problems and now its roll-up solar panels are helping power an entire island off the coast of Cardiff. But what is a roll-up solar panel? Well, the aforementioned company’s Rapid Roll system – as they call it – allows people to unroll solar panels like a carpet from a trailer in just minutes. When the solar panels are not needed, they are simply rolled back into the trailer.
Roll-up Solar Panels Could Power an Island as Large as Puerto Rico
Most islands face at least some logistical, tourism and environmental problems because of limited space. All inhabited islands, however, need power. So, how does one power an island using solar panels when there is limited space available? The answer is simple: use roll-up solar panels, the innovative technology developed by the company Renovagen. The technology is still being tried out, but the results so far have been impressive. It’s safe to assume that roll-up solar panels can be used to power entire islands.
Using Roll-up Solar Panels for Electricity: Flat Holm Island
Up until now, Flat Holm Island is the only place in the United Kingdom where a long-term deployment of the roll-up solar panels is taking place. Think of it as a trial ground for the new solar panel system. If it works – and it looks like it does – it will start to be deployed worldwide.
The Rapid Roll system was developed by John Hingley, the managing director of Renovagen – a company based in Buckinghamshire. The idea of scaling up the relatively forgotten concept of mobile solar technology came to him while he was travelling five years ago. His idea was simple, yet brilliant. By being able to roll up the solar panels, one could get more power capacity in a smaller box.
Here is an example: the solar panels contained in a 4×4’s trailer are capable of powering a 120-bed mobile clinic – for disaster-hit areas – or they can be used to desalinate around 25,000 liters (the equivalent of 6604 gallons) of seawater daily. The solar panels unfurl from behind a truck like a carpet, so one needs just some space to deploy the system. This means the solar panels can be deployed on a road, on the hillside, or in somebody’s backyard.
According to the company’s calculations, they can fit 10 times the power in the container when compared to traditional rigid solar panels. This is quite an astounding feat, especially when you consider the fact that roll-up solar panels are a lot easier to bring into operation than traditional solar panels.
For example, the Rapid Roll systems deployed on Flat Holm Island provide 11KW of power and can store 24KW/h of power. This is enough to provide electricity for four people and also cater to the needs of the tourists. The reserve is roughly equal to a day’s worth of energy use. In addition, the solar panels have a life span of at least 10 years.
Why an Island?
Islands are perfect for the new roll up solar panel technology. In the case of Flat Holm, the island relied on diesel generators and some old solar panels for all the electricity needs of its inhabitants and visitors. The roll-up solar panels system replaced the generators and old solar panels; and it is working well for everyone so far.
In many cases, providing power on an island is quite the challenge, especially when its tourist numbers are starting to grow. As one may imagine, the need for electricity is also growing in line with tourist numbers. The need for a fully functional solar panel system that doesn’t take up a lot of space is very real. And the roll-up solar panels system developed by Renovagen is perfect for the job – the high functioning system can provide the daily electricity people need on an island.
In addition, many islands, especially those that are renowned for their birdlife and plants, want to reduce their ecological footprint as much as possible. This means getting rid of the diesel generators. In most cases, old solar panels are unable not provide enough electricity without these generators, so more effective solar panels are required. Hydro is another option, but it would take up a great deal of land. And land in cities can be quite expensive if it is permanently occupied.
The roll-up solar panels are the right choice because they can be deployed on land that does not have any use – while the land awaits other opportunities. When the land gets a meaningful use, the solar panels are simply rolled up into the truck and then deployed on another piece of empty land. It’s as simple as that. The Rapid Roll system of solar panels provides the solution to the problems many islands are facing today; how can one generate electricity in a way that is portable and does not require laborious operations to relocate? As per BBC News, on Flat Holm Island, the local authority also uses Renovagen’s portable solar panels at the Lamby Way recycling center to recharge its electric vehicles (EVs).
Solar Panels for Disaster-Stricken Areas Like Puerto Rico
This technology is perfect for areas that have been hit by natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods. As is common knowledge, it takes a lot of time, effort and money to rebuild after a serious natural disaster and power is usually the first thing that needs to be restored. The solar panels developed by Renovagen are the best option, as they can be deployed in minutes – they can even be airlifted to remote locations. They can provide much-needed power as soon as they are operational. Restoring electricity becomes a simple thing when using the roll-up solar panels.
Keep in mind that, at the time of writing, Puerto Rico still has not managed to restore power to all areas after the mass destruction caused by Hurricane Maria. According to CNN, recovery has been moving at “a glacial pace.” People have been left without power for months. And the roll-up solar panels system could have helped. Not only can these new solar panels provide electricity for domestic use, they can also desalinate seawater daily. According to the Huffington Post, 55 percent of Puerto Rico’s population was left without drinkable water after Hurricane Maria.
An interesting fact is that a nonprofit children’s hospital in Puerto Rico – Hospital del Niño – has already begun to harvest energy from the sun. They are using traditional solar panels that have been installed in the hospital’s parking lot. At present time, there are approximately 800 panels in all, manufactured by Tesla and installed in roughly eight days. The solar panels are the first alternative-energy experiment on the island and they form a microgrid. In other words, the solar panels system has just enough capacity to run the large facility. On a sunny day, the solar panels produce around 250 kilowatts of energy – enough to power the children’s hospital for 20 hours. The facility still relies on diesel generators for the rest of the time.
Hospital del Niño uses the electricity from the solar panels to provide nonstop, critical care to 35 patients with chronic physical and mental conditions. In addition, over 3000 children from all around Puerto Rico come to this hospital for various treatments. Restoring power to the facility was essential after Hurricane Maria, and solar panels were the best option according to hospital staff.
It might be too late to start deploying portable solar panels to most areas of Puerto Rico, as other technologies are being used to restore power to these affected areas. However, in the future, a rapid-deployment system of roll-up solar panels could provide vital electricity to areas stricken by serious natural calamities in as little as a couple hours. These systems are easily airlifted, so the solar panels can reach the affected areas fast. And it takes minutes to deploy each system, as there is absolutely no need for solar engineers to model the site and calculate the solar field positions. One simply deploys the solar panels system and gets the much-needed electricity immediately. And the government could deploy hundreds of these solar panels carpets all over the affected areas, making it possible to generate impressive amounts of power in mere hours. Continue to follow solar news to learn about developments such as roll up solar panels, and just imagine how they could be used – they could power an island!