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Clean Power If you fall out of a plane, don't aim for the solar panel.

Published on February 2nd, 2013 | by Ronald Brakels

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Wireless Revolution – Solar Eliminates The Expense Of Wiring Devices To The Grid



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.

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About the Author

is dying here! Today, which is the 14th of January, it was 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) here in Adelaide and tomorrow it's predicted to be 46 degrees Celsius (115 Fahrenheit). I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, lay off the greenhouse gases!



  • linda

    That right solar panels under water, taxpayer’s money gone down the drain for the green idea. You think that the government knew that these house where going to be flooded yet gave out money for rooftop solar panels, our taxes wasted.

    • Ronald Brakels

      Odd. I don’t recall being underwater when I took those photos.

    • Kim

      I herd that grid solar powered homes are causing delay in restoring power in Queensland due to water damage, power can’t be restore in streets until the owner return and take control and secure there private run solar system, some thing do with there legal contract.

      • Ronald Brakels

        SES (State Emergency Service) workers can enter people’s property to check for electrical hazards any time it may be required. There is no need for the legal owner or anyone to be at home. If there is no grid power, there will be no solar power as solar systems automatically shut down if the grid goes down. Only PV systems with a cut off switch can be used if the grid isn’t working, which is a bit annoying, but it’s an important safety feature. Any house that’s had wiring underwater, PV system or not, needs to have its power switched off at the mains and be allowed to dry out before it’s switched back on to prevent house burning downitis.

  • Ronald Brakels

    One of my favourite uses is at Monato Zoo near Adelaide, which is a 10 square kilometre animal sanctuary with lions, rhinos, giraffes, chimpanzees, and other animals. Solar panels power automatic electric gates that keep ravening beasts away from the zoo animals. I can see this sort of device being very popular with farmers for their main gates, or any house that happens to have a gate.

  • Bob_Wallace

    They’ve made their way into California. We have all sorts of traffic signs running on solar.

    Along a portion of some highways there are solar powered radar systems that flash your car speed in critical areas. Very effective at getting people to slow down.

    If the sign knows you’re speeding maybe it’s telling the Highway Patrol….

  • http://cuberules.com Scot Herrick

    Here in Madison, Wisconsin, these types of solar panels light the many miles of bikeways in the city. The State also uses them to power the informational signs on the road about road construction (“left lane closed 1 mile…”). They are also used along roadways on bridges to send temperature and wind information so as to inform when roads need salting because the bridges freeze before the rest of the road. Lots of uses; I’m sure there are many more potential uses as well.

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