Clean Power Ascent integrates thin film solar module into backpack.

Published on October 17th, 2013 | by Tina Casey


Cutting Edge Portable Solar Power Module Fits On A Backpack

October 17th, 2013 by  

Ascent Solar Technologies Inc., one of the world’s top thin-film solar cell companies, has just announced the launch of its first solar power backpack for the consumer market. The new the EnerPlex Packr™ integrates Ascent’s proprietary thin film solar technology, and if you decide to get one of these puppies for yourself, go ahead and give yourself a big thumbs-up for paying your taxes…you built this!

That’s right, Ascent has received support from us taxpayers for its R&D efforts in the form of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Thin Film Photovoltaic Partnership, as well as participation in the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency (DARPA)  Low-Cost Lightweight Portable Photovoltaics Project and a lift from the Air Force Small Business Innovative Research program.

Ascent integrates thin film solar module into backpack.

EnerPlex Packr solar backpack courtesy of Ascent.

Ascent’s EnerPlex Packr Solar Backpack

At a price of $99 on the EnerPlex website (EnerPlex is the brand set up by Ascent to market its thin film solar products), the Packr is a bit of a bite, but it’s not that much more than you’d expect to pay for a quality backpack without solar power.

The Packr comes with a 3-watt solar panel made with Ascent’s proprietary thin film technology, along with a standard USB output, arranged so that you can plug it into your device and draw solar power while you’re still walking around.

That’s obviously more handy for walking about in solar-friendly California rather than taking a night hike through a deep forest, but add a bit of storage capacity and Bob’s your uncle.

Also recall the DARPA connection to Ascent, and that brings up an interesting angle. In 2010, the Army started using 62-watt portable solar “blankets” that could be tucked into a backpack. Ascent’s solar backpack takes it to the next logical step by using the backpack as a platform for solar power, too. That adds an important mobility factor to the portability concept.

Ascent’s CIGS Technology

Named one of Time’s “Best Inventions of 2011,” Ascent’s main contribution to the thin film market is a highly efficient, relatively low cost manufacturing process for thin film solar cells based on a semiconductor material called CIGS for Copper indium gallium (di)selenide. Ascent describes it this way:

Our proprietary, monolithically integrated processing techniques take CIGS to production on high-temperature plastic substrate that can survive the manufacturing temperatures associated with thin-film CIGS processing, while remaining flexible and electrically insulating. The insulating features of the plastics make it possible to connect individual cells into modules during processing.

The practically limitless application of Ascent’s CIGS thin film is already beginning to show. Aside from the backpacks, Ascent has been active in the solar tent market. That alone has a wide-ranging application in recreation, disaster relief and military operations to say nothing of outdoor fairs and festivals.

As for a recently announced partnership between Ascent and the Denver Broncos football team, don’t get too excited. They’re not going to plaster the stadium in CIGS, it’s just an advertising and promotion gig.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • Syros

    So, how good in real life terms is this thing at charging, say, an iPhone?

    • dgaetano

      It looks like an iPhone 5 has a 5.5 Watt hour battery, so it should charge in about 2 hours. An iPad mini (16.3Wh) would take all day to charge.

      • dgaetano (or anyone else that can answer the question I pose)

        Good answer by the way, dgaetano.

        So, if I have a fully charged iPhone and pull it out and use it on a sunny day and still plugged into the EnerPlex Pack with the panel facing the Sun, how much longer will my charge last? Until the Sun goes down? Would I get an extra hour of use, or two hours?

        Same question for the iPad or iPad mini.

        Thanks, JBS

        • dgaetano

          It looks like the backpack delivers more power than the iPhone uses (5.45 Wh battery / 8 hours talk time = the phone uses about 0.7 watts). In theory you could start using it near empty and have it charged in three hours or so even while it’s being used. In practice who knows, it depends on how the phone deals with charging, how optimistic Apple is being about that 8 hours, etc…

          If you’re interested in the backpack I’d recommend checking out the return policy and then just seeing if it works with your electronics using it how you intend.

          It does look like a cool toy 😉

          >Good answer by the way, dgaetano.
          Thank you.

      • Syros

        How did you arrive at these figures?

        • dgaetano

          The backpack generates 3 watts of power, so every hour it can generate 3 watt hours (Wh) of energy. By comparison, an (incandescent) 40 watt light bulb would use 40 Wh of energy in an hour.

          Battery storage for electronic devices can often be found at Wikipedia (see, tech specs on the right of the page), if you’re lucky it’s given in Wh, otherwise you may have to convert some units.

          Given that an iPhone battery is 5.45 Wh of storage, it would take just under 2 hours for the backpack to charge it.

          In reality there are losses, charging a battery is not 100% efficient. So two hours is probably a fair guess.

          Hope this helps!

          • Bob_Wallace

            In use as a backpack I would expect far less than 3Wh output.

            Solar panels need to face the Sun for full performance. When strapped to someones back there will be lots of time when the panel isn’t facing the Sun at all, in fact, will be in the shade.

            Even when the wearer has the Sun at their back the angle is bad most of the time.

            I’m questioning whether Bob really is your uncle. I suspect he isn’t.

          • dgaetano

            You’re right, I was considering my use case for backpacks: I use them to take my stuff someplace, do work for a few hours, then leave. Easy for me to leave it in a sunny spot.

            Walking around with it all day would produce greatly varying and certainly much more limited results.

            I’m standing by my above advice: purchase from a distributor with a liberal return policy!

          • Syros

            Got it. Thanks very much for the explanation!

    • Ivor O’Connor

      Well if you are walking about with the pack on you will be facing directly towards the sun 1/360th of the time. However on average you will be getting 31.7% of the sun’s output on that X axis. Now the sun will be somewhere between straight overhead and sunset/sunrise. So somewhere between 0 and 90 degrees. On average you’ll be getting about 61.3% of a direct hit on the Y axis. Multiply these by the 3 watts max it produces and you get .61 watts on average. Now that assumes there are no trees, mountains, clouds, and such. In the summer it might just keep it powered all day since it is unlikely you’ll be using your phone more than 80% of the time. Probably your conditions are less than optimal so lets cut that 80% in half. Talking 40% of the day is more than even valley girls probably do. So even though it doesn’t on average supply enough power to run your phone even in perfectly optimal conditions it is enough for practical work.

  • Kvarenaak

    A few months ago, I read about Tespak – a Finnish startup that also specializes in backpacks and bags with solar panels.

  • Senlac

    I want one thank you for the post.

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