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Portables Technology

Solar Powered Laptops 120

Posted by Soulskill
from the it's-not-easy-being-green dept.
smitty777 writes "Greentech is running a story on a solar powered laptop concept. The device was created by industrial designer Andrea Ponti, and includes a solar panel on the outside of the case as well as one below the keyboard. The idea seems to be taking shape; Samsung has a design they've been developing as well."
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Solar Powered Laptops

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  • by hedwards (940851) on Saturday June 04, 2011 @08:38PM (#36339220)

    Seriously, solar cells get hot, and laptops themselves have enough trouble from getting hot, I'm curious as to how bad the hit is going to be in terms of device durability.

    • by TD-Linux (1295697)
      They only get as hot as my black Thinkpad gets in the sun. I think laptops will live.
      Durability will be interesting. Solar cells are extremely fragile. However, there are a number of strong encapsulants out there, so it shouldn't be too much of a problem.
    • Really, I mean laptop manufacturers give advice like this [toshibalife.com] :

      "Laptops generate a surprising amount of heat, and are engineered to extremely tight thermal tolerances. That means even the shortest period of prolonged heat can harm them. To best take care of your laptop keep it out of direct sunlight and away from heaters or radiators."

      The heat is going to kill the battery. Not that it matters this is a "design concept" and has pretty much a zero chance of become a real product.

      • even the shortest period of prolonged heat

        That sure sounds like a true manufacturer's warning, fully self-contradictory.

        On a more serious note, have you never seen a solar powered fan? There's no need to have a fast, high powered solar laptop if the goal is just to have a solar laptop. A six inch by 10 inch solar array can generate about 7 watts, and that's more than enough for a carefully designed, if somewhat feeble, netbook.

        • There's no need to have a fast, high powered solar laptop if the goal is just to have a solar laptop.

          And there's no need for a laptop that actually works when you can make one out of cardboard.

          As for solar-powered laptops, there are elegant solutions out there already but they are pricey. [voltaicsystems.com]

        • by macs4all (973270)

          even the shortest period of prolonged heat

          That sure sounds like a true manufacturer's warning, fully self-contradictory.

          On a more serious note, have you never seen a solar powered fan? There's no need to have a fast, high powered solar laptop if the goal is just to have a solar laptop. A six inch by 10 inch solar array can generate about 7 watts, and that's more than enough for a carefully designed, if somewhat feeble, netbook.

          Yeah, I had one of those solar-powered fans. Totally useless, even in direct, bright sunlight.

          And that's 7 W at 10 degrees North, on a cloudless day, at Noon.

      • by Rei (128717)

        Depends on what type of battery you use. All batteries are not created equal. If you use the sort of battery on a ThinkBook X1, it should have excellent thermal tolerance. The "fast charge" chemistries generally don't mind heat much.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I don't take my laptop outside and I live in a dark room, like any nerd.

  • not to metion solar laptops have been done. all you need is like 150watt panel and a inverter. plenty to power a netbook add a battery and enough for the entire night as well.
  • by cshark (673578) on Saturday June 04, 2011 @08:47PM (#36339270)

    So does this mean that my porn habit has to be fed during the day, and out doors? Kinky...

    • The radiation from the sun is an excellent disinfectant too. Not good news for basement dwellers. You'd need to go outside in a black suit with a broad brimmed hat and gloves also sunglasses and a ski mask. Also SPF10000 cream to guard against specular reflections - in bright sunlight even they are strong enough to make a basement dweller COMBUST. The humans will become suspicious.

      Frankly I prefer to run my laptop from the small reactor I built in my basement - it's much safer.

  • E-Ink (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sonicmerlin (1505111) on Saturday June 04, 2011 @08:58PM (#36339316)
    Why not put solar panels on E-ink based e-readers? You have Amazon et al. bragging about their battery life, but if you put a solar panel on the things you'd never need to charge them.
    • by TD-Linux (1295697)
      Probably because they add weight and thickness (the encapsulant especially - a cell itself is thin and light). That's probably a more competitive aspect than battery life.
      • That's not true. There's a South Korean firm that released an e-ink e-reader with a solar panel and it's perfectly fine. Look at calculators with solar panels. Devices like the Kindle are battery sipping, not needing to be charged for weeks at a time. A simple, low-cost and low power solar panel could easily keep it charged at 100%.
        • by MBCook (132727)

          I agree a few small strips could supply the Kindle's power needs, but I'd imagine it would be hard on the battery. Solar calculators usually run off solar only and don't have a battery in them. Constantly topping off the battery may actually cause memory issues or otherwise just shorten the life of the battery such that the minuses outweigh the pluses.

          Wouldn't be hard to try, but given how aggressive everyone (but Sony) has been at pushing prices down, it may be enough of a cost issue.

          It's too bad. Sony w

    • by Lehk228 (705449)
      IMO it would be better to put the collectors on the case as an optional accessory, you could get full charge size cells or ones that just extend battery life, it also would make any future improvements in solar tech easy to integrate with existing devices
    • This would be wonderful. When my battery gets low I can just pull out the case light on my kindle and keep reeding. ;)
  • So now I have to add "spend time outside in sun" to my calendar.
  • Because Laptop screens are SO awesome in direct sunlight and everyone uses computers outside!
  • Sun -> heat -> Dead batteries.

    why charge it in the sun if you'll end up having 10 minutes autonomy after 1 month?

    • yeah because we all have to use our solar powered calculators outside...

      • by errandum (2014454)

        Are you comparing the kind of power required by a laptop with a calculator?

        And you missed the point. 99% of batteries used in laptops/phones are extremely sensitive to heat. sun = heat, so I doubt that battery will keep it's power for long.

        • 1. A laptop doesn't have to be used all the time, so when you leave it on the couch while you're doing something else it can partially recharge.
          2. Battery doesn't have to be next to panel.
          3. Panel on a calculator doesn't get hot. I'm guessing they aren't going for the most efficient panels.
          4. I don't think laptop display work that well in direct sun either, so it probably isn't designed to be in the sun.
          5. Solar panel probably is a bad term. Light panel? Photon panel? IDK.

          • by errandum (2014454)

            Ok, are you trolling me or being serious?

            Anything left out in the sun (in this case, to recharge), can easily reach 60. Even if they are not next to the panel, they will get hot, eventually.

            Lithium-ion batteries are extremely sensitive to heat. That's a well known fact...

            The only way I can see a "solar powered laptop" is if the solar panel can be detached from the laptop and recharges it using a wire of some kind, to avoid solar exposure of the machine.

  • Samsung has been pursuing solar power for more than two years, at the insistence of the company's owner Lee Kun-hee. Despite failing to find a marketable application for the technology so far, Samsung is hopeful the solar-powered netbook could give it an edge in the emerging African market.

    this is a case where we need to keep certain manufacturing jobs overseas and far away from the U.S.

    • by CrazyJim1 (809850)
      I have a friend from Carnegie Mellion University working for a Chinese upstart solar company

      Whatever you have to say against China, their low wages mean they might be able to crack the cost/efficiency ratio if they make it cost really cheap.

      And all sorts of good things happen when you do this... Anyone with any visionary blood in them knows what this means. Solar panels everywhere, energy on the cheap. Transportation doesn't cost gas money... Water and food is cheaper... etc etc...

      You don't got to
  • This is a concept? This has been around since 1996. Apple's PowerBook 1400 had a removable cover on the lid and a company called Keep It Simple Systems made a solar panel for it.

    You can see how successful it was because they're ubiquitous now.

  • Since this solar laptop is for use in sunlight, there's no need for a powered backlight for the LCD display. Use the sun, that's what it's there for.

    Providing some shade for the viewing side of the display would help contrast.

    Heck, use a reflective LCD screen. No need for silly backlighting arrangements.

  • Laptop != Calculator (Score:4, Interesting)

    by LongearedBat (1665481) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @12:10AM (#36340132)

    All these comments comparing calculators to laptops...

    - Have you ever felt a calculator or MP3 player get hot? Ever come across one that gets so hot that it needs a fan?

    - Have you ever felt a laptop get hot? Ever come across a laptop that doesn't need a fan?

    - Calculators use so little energy that a small strip indoors is enough to power it. Laptops are still not solar powered because the amount of energy required has so far been too much for solar cells to produce.

    My point is that, in terms of heat, laptops and calculators are very different.

    Have you ever used a laptop in the sun? I have, when sitting next to a window where the sun shines in. I soon move because the laptop gets uncomfortably hot. I don't know how bad that heat is for my laptop, but it's considerable, and I think it might be too much for the little fan, so I'm not about to test it.

    Summary: In terms of energy use and heat... Laptop != Calculator

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      All these comments comparing calculators to laptops...

      Or on the flip side, all these comments immediately assuming it's like one of those giant desktop-replacement beasts.
      I can't answer for the others, but when I saw the headline, I immediately thought of netbook-class processors, or smartphone class. No moving parts. Charge it either in the sun or with a cord. Run in non-backlit mode when in the sun, a modest sized screen won't draw so much power, and an ARM system-on-a-chip only pulls one watt at full blast.

      • Yep. First sensible post in this thread. This is what I had imagined. I would want something that I could take on holiday, and read e-mail where there is a connection, some simple word processing and data visualization, not viewing videos or gaming. You could keep a diary when hiking, and stuff like that.

        If you have a solid-state hard disk, and don't have a display backlight, or a DVD drive, and the USB ports only supported very tiny current draws such as thumb drives, you can omit the battery and rely o

      • Agreed!

        Though I was not referring to a desktop replacement. I was referring to a proper laptop running mostly cool , but feeling uncomfortably overheated by sun light..

        But yes, I agree with you.

      • I have an Efika MX Smartbook (http://www.genesi-usa.com/products/smartbook), without a fan. Barely gets warm most of the time. I can certainly see solar power work for something similar, if it has a sunlight-viewable display like the Pixel Qi ones.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Now all the morons on slashdot will collectively go after their weird logic on sunlight, heat and other tangents. Granted sunlight is the most efficient way to charge, however indoor lighting however inefficient can still change. So it's a good thing to have. I guess all the morons who posted about solar porn watching sit around in the dark watching porn all day.

  • Considering how well most laptops work in the sunlight, does this mean that you can either power it or see what's on the screen?

  • by macs4all (973270) on Sunday June 05, 2011 @01:29AM (#36340448)
    About 1992, a coworker and I seriously looked into doing a solar-powered laptop charger. The idea was going to be something that would either attach to the back of the lid, and/or detach and sit someplace convenient. Yes, I know there are solar trickle-chargers for things like boat batteries; but that's not the point.

    When you start looking into this, you will soon find out that PV cells suck so incredibly hard that, unless you live someplace like Arizona, that the rated output of a typical PV cell, which is almost always rated at "1 standard sun" (I kid you not! It's a real unit-of-measure), is so far below that number, that you end up having to have something that folds-out like the solar-cell arrays on Skylab.

    Yes, PV cells have gotten a little better since 1990, and there are some mobile CPUs that are better on current consumption than what was available at that time, too; but not enough to matter in either case; because so many people live in areas where their average sun exposure is closer to 0.5 Standard Sun, and they will never even get close to 1 Standard Sun's worth of solar energy.

    It's a great idea; but it needs a real breakthrough to make it practical.
    • Yes, PV cells have gotten a little better since 1990, and there are some mobile CPUs that are better on current consumption than what was available at that time, too

      Ya think? Its a good thing you looked into this 20 years ago. You may have just saved this company from wasting their time.

      • by macs4all (973270)

        Yes, PV cells have gotten a little better since 1990, and there are some mobile CPUs that are better on current consumption than what was available at that time, too

        Ya think? Its a good thing you looked into this 20 years ago. You may have just saved this company from wasting their time.

        Except that the Engineers at the well-heeled R&D department at Samsung [coolerplanet.com] don't seem to be having much luck right now, either; even with the Owner of the company pushing hard for it. Also note that Fujitsu has no plans to market this world-changing technology. Wonder why?

        It's one of those things that looks quite do-able, until you actually try to make it work in the real world. What one of my former bosses used to refer to as a "Lab Queen".

        • I imagine if Columbus or Edison had your wisdom, we'd be sitting in the dark unaware of the western hemisphere. I think the success of a solar laptop design really depends what you define a laptop as. Considering my cell phone is much more powerful than any consumer computer, laptop or desktop, from the early 90's, and uses far, far less power, I think your expertise in the field of solar laptops became irrelevant roughly 20 years ago minus a few months. Welcome to the future. Please keep your old and buste
  • A laptop with a crank makes more sense. Cheaper. More reliable. Maybe add a bit of solar just to top things off on a sunny day.
  • by tftp (111690)

    This reminds me of the famous Chinese initiative (in Mao's times) when they made iron in every backyard [wikipedia.org], in small kilns. The process was very inefficient and produced metal of poor quality, nearly useless.

    We don't run our own electric generators in our homes (except in emergencies.) We instead buy electric energy that is produced elsewhere. We don't want to order coal or gas, we don't want to subject our homes to endless inspections, and we don't want to invest into boilers and turbines and generators.

    B

    • Whatever you say, laptops spend most of their life either on desks or in backpacks. Unless you are a student who works outdoors (because it's impossible to work in your room due to some scheduled orgy) you virtually never take the laptop outside. It's insecure; it's inconvenient; it may be raining; a bird may decide to land on it, with the obvious end result; there are millions of reasons why laptops typically stay indoors.

      So don't buy it. Nobody said this has to be useful to the majority of the population. A small number of people actually has to work in the sun, regardless of such inconveniences, and can't plug it in when they want.

  • Extra heavy.
    Only useful in the situations where you least need a laptop.
    More fragile.

    Why not just create a bloody bike-laptop which you have to cycle on to use.

    Would be about as practical.

    • A bike-laptop reminds me of this [hackaday.com], so awesome. And he did cycle while using it, although it was to power a different thing than the computer ;)

  • Interesting I was considering buying a solargorilla a few months ago but I found it to hard to believe you could actually power something like a laptop straight from the sun. I find it less likely that panels on a laptop itself could be enough to power it maybe trickle charge it when it's off but even then I'm thinking it would take way to long to be of any real world use.

    I may of course be completely wrong and maybe it is in fact possible in countries that have a lot of sun I've a feeling I'd be wasting m

  • I bought a Samsung NB30 to try out Pixel Qi's daylight-readable screen, and have been very impressed with Samsung's engineering. Since the display enables me to carry the NB30 everywhere, it's taking quite a beating. Fortunately, it has a waterproof membrane undr the keyboard, a feature I've accidentally tested with many spills. The drive automatically parks, so the several times I've dropped it has not done more than break small pieces off of the case. This is one tough little PC.

    Right now, my biggest

  • The article says "could become the greenest laptop ever made". I'm pretty sure it's not. While such a laptop might be convenient in certain situations, its lifetime is way too short for the EROI of the solar cells to become even near positive, even if left permanently in the sun.

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