Michael Filler, CalTech photovoltaics expert.
Apple is reported to be working on solar-powered versions of the iPhone and iPod. Now, how cool is that! Call it fortuitous, or yet another example of Steve Jobs' marketing genius, given the high price of oil, the news couldn't be more timely.
An Apple patent application describes technology to integrate solar cells into portable devices. Apple appears to be trying to innovate in the integration of the solar cells by packaging solar cells right into the device in an unobtrusive way. Electricity-generating cells could be placed underneath the device's display. Specifically, the patent application details the use of "a semitransparent display with a solar cell placed underneath it.
The huge difference between earlier solar-powered consumer
technologies and the patent for which Apple filed is the amount of
power consumed by the product, according to Michael Filler, a Caltech
postdoctoral scholar specializing in photovoltaics in a Forbes report
on Apple's plans. According to Filler's calculations, it would take
250,000 to 1 million solar-powered wrist watches to generate the energy
needed to power one iPhone (and keep the watches ticking). In other
words, "the rate of energy consumption of the iPhone is about 250,000
to 1 million times larger than a standard sports wrist watch."
Filler's calculation is for power consumption rates when both are
being used, and take into account that the watch is used 24/7 while the
iPhone is used for periods of time and then stored. Concerns exist over
the application of solar energy in portable devices such as cell
phones, which are typically stored in pockets or purses and therefore
are not constantly exposed to light. Also, while silicon solar cells do
not need direct sunlight to work, they will collect a lot less energy
indoors or on a cloudy day. The most efficient solar cells on the
market convert the sun's energy into electricity at about 20%
efficiency, Filler told Forbes.
On a perfectly sunny day, an iPhone equipped with Apple's potential new technology could generate around 1 watt of energy, Filler explained. "It's not going to be able to power the entire device but could extend battery life." Almost anything solar-powered would still need to have a battery to store the captured energy.
The most obvious obstacle Apple may face will be the potential limitation for a gadget meant to be so small to have a large enough surface area on which to embed the solar cells. "Apple has done such a superb job packing so much function into such a small package, that not much area is available to harvest sunlight, even if you were standing in the middle of the desert somewhere in Nevada," Filler said.
When generating electricity from solar panels, the larger the panel the
better -- but as the patent "Solar cells on portable devices" warns,
after allowing space for buttons, screens and a way to hold the device,
only a small area is left on most devices for solar cells.
One of the ways around that suggested in the patent is to stack a touch-sensitive layer, a display and solar panel on top of one another. That could make Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch good candidates for such a power supply, as the display occupies almost the entire face of those devices.
Reading between the lines, Tim Cook, Apple’s COO, discussed the iPhone's potential in the long term
the Goldman Sachs Technology Investment Symposium: “I need a bigger word than ‘enormous’ to describe it,” he said. Taken together, iPhone 1.5 and iPhone 2.0 bring the future into focus,
propelling Apple closer to its oft-stated goal of selling 10 million
iPhones by the end of the year.
The use of solar powered charging in portable devices is starting to
generate more attention, for more immediate consumer use as well. When
Vodafone announced its plan in April to reduce its emissions of the
greenhouse gase CO2 by 50 percent by 2020, it also announced plans for
solar-powered phone chargers and universal phone chargers for
Posted by Casey Kazan.
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