Friday, May 25, 2007

Power Film for Wireless Sensor Network Applications

Wireless sensor networks are used in environmental monitoring applications (e.g. weather, flood monitoring, forest fires, etc) which require long term deployment in an outdoor setting. Since battery power is the key constraint, solar energy is a useful option for powering the nodes. When I last looked into solar cell arrays they came encased in glass with bulky metal frames to hold them together. The type sold for home installations were priced in the stratosphere. If a tree fell on it and broke the glass then it would no longer function.

In checking into the field again, I’m happy to find that solar cells have moved forward by a significant measure. In fact solar cells in the form of “thin films” is now a hot topic especially in the renewable energy space. One blogger calls 2007 the Year of the Thin Film. Solar cells come in flexible packaging making it easier to mount to a roof or attach to a device.

Power Film appears to b be a key player in this field. One can example of their work is the “Fusion” Solar Messenger Bag which won a CES award last year. They designed the solar panels into a carry on bag.

The company Power Film is based in Iowa and makes a thin film solar cell array that can be attached to wireless sensor network nodes to power them. They use a roll-to-roll manufacturing process that can create a 13 inch by 2400 ft long roll of flexible solar cell in a flexible plastic. They have a partnership with Hewlett-Packard for applying their thin film solar arrays to the back of flat panel displays.

According to their datasheet, they can generate up to 1000Watts/kg and claim to be the world’s lightest solar cell array panel.

Best regards,
Hall T.

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