This morning I decided to head down to the beach and take a photograph of a solar-powered parking lot sign for you, but it was raining. This was very odd, as it almost never rains in Adelaide at this time of year. Of course, it does rain in other parts of Australia. A fair bit of Queensland is under water at the moment as a result of all the rain they’re having, which is rather inconvenient for them, but I suppose it makes for a pleasant change from all that catching on fire they were doing not so long ago. But rain in Adelaide at this time of year is most peculiar. Fortunately for you, I was undaunted and headed out to get some photographs.
Actually, heading out wasn’t that much of a sacrifice. I prefer rainy days to sunny ones. We don’t get enough rain in Australia. Except when it floods. Personally, I dislike walking around in sunshine as I burn very easily. If my arms weren’t so hairy I would have died of sunburn long ago. The sun is my enemy. The reason I am so interested in solar power is it amuses me to gain benefit from my foe.
The reason I wanted to go out and get you some photographs is because I’ve been told that free-standing, solar-powered, electrical devices are rare in many countries, and so there may be quite a few people who have never seen one.
Here is one of our solar-powered parking signs. It cuts carbon emissions by getting its electricity from the sun and stops drivers from wasting time and fuel looking for a park when the lot is full. As it’s a free car park, it was quite thoughtful of the local council to install it.
Powering devices like the parking lot sign with solar instead of mains power can save money by eliminating the cost of connecting them to the grid. The savings can be huge, as installing just a few metres of power line can cost thousands of dollars. It can be much cheaper to install a solar panel and a battery instead. As the cost of solar has decreased and the reliability of batteries has improved, these devices have steadily become more common.
I did notice one odd thing about the solar parking sign. Through sophisticated image analysis techniques, or possibly just by holding a protractor up to my computer screen, I was able to determine that the solar panel has an angle of only 30 degrees. In Adelaide, that makes it optimised for collecting sunshine in the summer, while it should make more sense for it to be at a steeper angle to generate more power during the shorter winter days. But for all I know, 30-degree fittings were on special the week they installed it, and so it was the cheapest option.
There are two other interesting things I learned from my trip to the beach, and they are that ice cream cones now cost $7.50 and it is now possible to buy a thing called a Beer Bong. A Beer Bong is a bucket of beer on a pole with nozzles that hang down like the tentacles of an alien, alcohol-based life form. As a result of this new information, I am unable to decide if Australians have too much money or not enough.
On the right is a picture of a solar-powered park light from the block I live on. As you can see, the solar panel is at a steep angle in order to maximise winter power. See the serrated teeth at the top of the solar panel? Oddly enough, the reason they’re there is not to form steel jaws when it transforms into a robotic dinosaur, but rather to stop birds perching on top and leaving behind little messages. Or even bird poo.
This is a solar-powered sensor for our trams that was possibly built to stop my friend’s mother from speeding when she’s driving them. It includes a mobile phone link that sends information back to the person at Tram Command Headquarters, who I think is called Kym.
And this… I have no idea what this is. The lamp is mains powered, but the box connected to it isn’t. It has an aerial so it can call people, but I’m not sure what it would have to say, “Hi! Yeah, I’m still bolted to a lamp post. How are things with you?” But I’m sure it has a practical purpose. Well, I’m pretty sure it does, but I suppose it’s always possible it could be a primitive type of solar-powered life that escaped from someone’s 3D printer.
There are plenty of uses for free-standing, solar-powered devices, and people are thinking up new ones all the time. Or at least some of all of the time. One potential use is to create temporary or permanent wi-fi in an area. In other words, they can be used to create wireless wireless.
If you don’t have these kinds of solar-powered devices in your area already, you might see them popping up soon. Or you might not. There is absolutely no need for other countries to follow our rather simple approach of slapping a rectangular solar panel on top of a device. Solar cells could instead be incorporated in an aesthetically pleasing way so that you’d never know they were there.
Ronald Brakels lives in Adelaide, South Australia. Now that his secret identity has been revealed he is free to admit he first became interested in renewable energy after environmental mismanagement destroyed his home planet of Krypton. He is keenly interested in solar energy and at completely random intervals will start talking to himself about, "The vast power of earth's yellow sun."