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Backpacking and camping are on the minds of many nature-lovers year-round. Roger, from Green Planet Solar Energy, walks us through different ways to incorporate solar energy in outdoor activities.
Why use solar camping equipment? Solar camping equipment is the perfect complement to the impact free camping experience. I find that going into the wilderness refreshes me and motivates me to be more constructive in terms of the future of the planet. Using renewable energy while camping or hiking is a way of taking my commitment to reduce my ecological footprint with me into the bush. Whether you are going on foot or in an RV, there are solar energy saving devices you can use. Here quality is a big issue; there is little point buying a solar powered device to save electricity only to have it break down and be thrown out soon after due to poor build quality.
Portable solar panels
Portable solar panels are a great source of pollution-free electricity while camping. Depending on the capacity of the panel, you can run a number of electrical devices from these including lights, battery chargers, radios and so on. These work best in conjunction with a large lead-acid battery such as a car battery.
The Solar Camping Shower
A solar camping shower is a very simple device that allows you to have a hot shower at the end of the day. As long as there is a steady supply of sunshine, the bag containing the water will heat up.
This is more efficient when the air temperature is higher, since there will be less heat loss from the bag.
Sunlight strikes the plastic surface of the bag containing the water. The surface will be matt (not shiny) so that as little light is reflected as possible. It is also black as that absorbs the most amount of light.
The light, once absorbed, is turned into heat and that heat is transferred to the water. This process will continue as long as sunlight is falling on the bag. Because water has a high specific heat value (meaning it stores a lot of heat per gram) it holds the heat well. This means that the water in the bag will stay warm even after the sun has stopped shining on it.
This is a great way to harvest the sun's energy without any pollution at all. It allows us to have the luxury of a warm shower even when we are miles from any powered water source and have no heating source other than a bright sunny day.
These devices are not expensive to purchase and should be available from your local camping or outdoor supplies store.
The K-Light Solar Lantern
Pisat's new rugged little solar lantern is ideal for the outdoors. It can function as a lantern or as a torch and has two output settings. There is maximum light, provided by 16 Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) or economy mode where 8 LEDS are used. The whole unit is roughly the same size and weight as a full can of drink.
The battery in the lantern is charged via a separate solar panel. At maximum light output, the torch provides one hour of light for each hour of charge. In economy mode, one hour of charge provides two hours of operation. The solar panel itself is designed to take so much punishment the company is calling it "unbreakable", and the lantern itself is waterproof and shatterproof.
The handle of the lantern can be changed to allow the unit to be used as a torch. The torch part is at the bottom of the unit and comes with several settings to adjust the beam of light. The unit costs just under $50, which is excellent given that it has an expected lifespan of 10 years.
The Solar Powered Backpack
A solar powered backpack incorporates a thin film solar cell panel into the pack body. This panel can be either the amorphous Silicon type or the newer CIGS variety. The panel is connected to a battery pack which charges, storing excess power during the daytime.
Good quality backpacks will come with a wide variety of connection types that link to the battery pack, so that charging any small device that has a standard power input is easy. Phones, iPods, rechargeable torches and other such devices can then be kept charged even when a regular power supply is nowhere to be found. This not only provides convenience and comfort but also has the safety aspect of being able to stay in contact by avoiding a flat phone battery.
The solar backpack is one of the first products that incorporate thin film solar cell technology into everyday items. Given the continual rise in energy demands of the modern lifestyle, this approach of utilizing spare surfaces to generate electricity is both economically sensible and environmentally friendly. By being able to recharge a torch while hiking in the daytime, less waste will be produced from dead batteries. This has several knock on effects such as reducing manufacturing costs and energy use, as well as reducing harmful landfill.
Current Solar Cell Efficiency The flexible panels incorporated into solar backpacks currently have good efficiency. This will continue to rise as the technology of these solar cells advances, but the gains will be small and slow. Current flexible solar panels will provide a good return on investment immediately and will give good service for many years.
The New Solar Tent
Concept By Orange
The idea of a solar tent is nothing new and indeed tents with flexible solar panels built into the top fabric have been in use with the military for some time. This concept tent by UK manufacturer Orange is different, as of June 2009.
Called the Glastonbury, the tent plans to have photovoltaic material built into the fabric of the tent. The fabrics will have solar threads woven into the fabric, which is different from sewing a solar panel into place.
The top parts of the tent are to be adjustable, so they can be repositioned throughout the day to get the most from the sunshine.
The energy generated by the tent will be able to be monitored on a flexible LCD touch screen display inside the tent. The plan is to also have a wireless internet connection that can be displayed on this same panel. The wireless fun doesn't not stop there. The tent will contain a charging pocket that will wirelessly charge mobile devices placed in it - no cables required!
On the comfort front there will be a floor heating mat which is activated by a drop in ground temperature. The tent will also be able to glow in the dark so it's easy to find.
To avoid festival-goers ever losing their tent, the Concept Tent would be fitted with innovative “glo-cation” technology. Glo-cation works by enabling campers’ mobile phones to identify their tent using either an SMS message or automatic active RFID technology (a longer range version of that used in London Underground Oyster cards); both would trigger a distinctive glow in the tent helping identify it from a distance. If you get lost, you'll be able to contact the tent and it will give you its GPS location and the direction you need to travel to get back to it.
Clearly this is a luxury tent and is not intended for hiking adventures. Not that it'd be any good for that, as the solar panels can't really function when the tent is stowed away in a pack. Indeed, it is purpose built to accommodate the stationary camper. Mind you, with all these futuristic features it'd probably cost as much as a caravan.
The Solar Hat Fan:
Get Ready For Safari
The solar hat fan has symbolized the uncoolest cool since they first appeared. These devices come in two basic forms, ones that clip onto the brim of a hat, and ones that are built in to the hat itselft.
The style of hat that the fan is built into can vary, but I've picked the good old Pith helmet because that's in the same league as the fan itself in terms of fashion.
A clip-on fan can cost as little as ten bucks and would no doubt be invaluable for those jungle safaris you regularly go on. Obviously, you can move the clip-on fan from one hat to another which you can't do for the embedded unit. They are available from just about any online store that sells electrical products. Your local electronics store will also likely have them, and you'll save on postage.