|A solar canopy that can charge electric vehicles and bicycles, at the south parking lot at OMSI. Photo: Dustin Eppers/EnzymePDX|
The sun may forsake Portland most of the year, but at least you can always find it in the same place. The same can’t be said for some of the solar-powered devices creeping in to everyday life, silently integrating solar energy as a real energy solution. Here are two notable examples of this solar subversion – one looking to the future, one rooted in the present.
OMSI’s Solar Canopy
If you head to the south parking lot on OMSI’s grounds, you’ll notice an oddly shaped canopy with its rooftop angled toward the south. This is OMSI’s solar canopy charging station, brought to life through a collaboration with PGE, Sanyo (which manufactures solar panels) and design and construction firm InSpec Group. According to InSpec co-owner Doug Smith, it is the first time that solar technology has been combined with electric vehicle and bike charging stations under one structure in the country.
OMSI views the canopy as a multi-purpose installation. “It’s an educational exhibit for us. It’s a net metering facility” – that flows generated electricity back to the grid – “it’s also a very powerful application of solar technology,” OMSI Senior Vice President Paul Carlson said. Included in the installation is a flat panel screen that reports how much electricity is being generated in real-time.
Similar canopies have been constructed in other parts of the world. “Sanyo in Japan put in almost like a traffic roundabout with a solar canopy with solar charging and electric bike charging, and it’s almost viewed as a community asset,” Smith said. As a novel exhibit, OMSI’s solar canopy is a great opportunity to see how one day recharging one’s electronics or vehicle might become a communal social activity. The thing is, that day is quickly approaching.
According to Smith, InSpec has talked to other institutions including government entities, universities and schools, companies and the airport about building similar solar recharging centers. With the explosive popularity of mobile devices and with the iPad driving a rise in mobile computing, it’s not a stretch to imagine college students splayed out on the quad cramming for midterms while their tablet, smartphone or electric bike powers up. Just as the cell phone moved the dynamic of the telephone to a public space, so can the simple act of recharging one’s device become a social experience. And with OMSI’s charging station taking only about five months to build from initial talks to completion, the barrier to build is low.
Carlson says that the canopy hasn’t seen too much use yet, but he is expecting electric vehicles to change that. “We’re anticipating the Nissan LEAF to spur higher utilization. The other unique feature about this solar canopy is the fact that it charges electric bikes. We expect to see electric bikes more prevalent in the future.”
The solar panels themselves are noteworthy – and not just because their bifacial construction absorbs light from both above and below. The silicon ingots used to make the panels were fabricated at Sanyo’s Oregon facility in Salem.
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