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March 20, 2015

Total eclipse of technology

What did today's eclipse actually mean to solar technology?

By Joao Lima

All the hype surrounding today’s eclipse by the media was quickly extinguished with the mass of cloud blocking people’s view. With countries increasingly adopting solar power as their new source of energy, how will technology cope with future solarevents?

Eclipse Fact: In our Solar System, only earth sees full solar elipses as we are the only planet in which the sun and moon align perfectly.

1. Solar Panels

In 1999 the world did not have a ‘problem’ with solar panels. Their existence was very much null. 16 years down the line, over 10% of electricity is greenly produced by the Sun.

Today’s eclipse brought networks’ production down to 25% of their normal capacity. With data centres around the world turning to solar power (including the biggest data centre being built in Sweden), an absence of sun has the potential to seriously impact technology.

But what will happen in 2026 when the next solar eclipse is due to happen? By then more than half of the European grid will be based on solar power, as most countries are stepping up their green energy programs. For example, France today announced a new law which demands all new buildings’ rooftops in commercial zones to be partially covered with plants or solar panels. In the UK solar farms are also en route to be built. Engineers and developers will have to work proactively to ensure no data is lost every 15 years or so because of the Moon.

2. Solar Chargers

Ever more common – and handy – solar chargers could have let you down this morning while trying to charge a wearable or smartphone. They exist in all sizes and shapes, incorporated in rucksacks, speakers or as a simple portable panel. Even though the eclipse wouldn’t mean the end of the world when it comes to solar chargers, it would certainly cause significant annoyance.

Hybrid solar electric battery packs provider Solpro has a handful of different portable solar chargers. Both the Helios and Gemini solutions allow users to keep going, with 90 minutes of solar exposure enough to charge a Smartphone. Users of this charger could have come to a standstill with this morning’s eclipse.

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3. Solar Watches

The last thing you need when commuting to work is your watch becoming confused thanks to not receiving a sunny hello to boost its energy. With smartwatches starting to make a strong market appearance, solar energy will inventible be the best way to charge them in the future.

The XS-4 by Exetech is one such watch powered by solar energy. The XS-4 is equipped with a technology that transforms the screen into a solar panel that can generate its own electricity. The solar cells act as light receptors and transforms that light into electricity. The technology helps to recharge the battery and improve the standby time.

Even though a recent report exposed that only 1% of Britons own a smartwhatch, they are here to stay – just don’t wear a solar one during an eclipse.

4. Solar CCTV

CCTV is another market that is changing rapidly. We explored the 10 best IoT start-ups before, and many of these focused on giving you apps and tools to control your home from a distance. Now, if your CCTV system is powered by the sun, you might have to reconsider new ways of having to access to it during a solar eclipse.

This year, Grantham Council in Lincolnshire was one of the first to incorporate solar CCTV in their surveillance network. The cameras record along the Grantham Canal and some other areas of the town, with the aim of acting as a deterrant to litter-bugs and fly-tippers.

When the solar eclipse occured in the UK, the cameras had to turn to wind power in order to keep operating. Apart from solar and wind power, the machines have no other energy supply meaning that they could indeed become unreliable if a solar eclipse occurs on a no-wind day.

5. Solar Vehicles

Even though this is not a sector yet widely available to the general public, there are many lessons to be learnt from today’s event. Solar panels on vehicles and transport have now started to be tested; they charge on-the-go and can retain energy for travelling after dark.

As you read, an experimental Swiss solar plane, the Solar Impulse, is going around the world on a circumnavigation conquest -like the navigators did in the Discoveries Period 500 years ago.

The plane has 11,628 photovoltaic cells rated at 45 kW peak, covering an area of 2,200 square feet. Incorporated in the design are four electric motors and four 21 KWh lithium-ion batteries providing 7.5 kW each. But if the plane were to rely on solar power alone, and then encounters a solar eclipse, it might not work out so well for the passengers on-board.

Solar cars are already available for purchase, but the turning point is yet to be seen. Ford last year revealed the Ford C-Max Solar Energi Concept, a car whose rooftop is covered with solar panels. All this technology is interconnected and the loss of this communication would be disastrous.

If all transport were to embrace solar in the future, an absence of sun thanks to an eclipse could spell disaster across highways and skyways.

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