23 Jan 2006
Photovoltaics you can wear… however did we get by without them?
Depending on how you look at these things this is either photovoltaics making a noble crossover into the Brave New World of the mainstream, or an absurd waste of resources applied to rather pointless aims. A company called ScotteVest has produced a jacket with 52 pockets (!) which are all linked somehow by wires, to create what they call a ‘Personal Area Network’, and you can power the whole thing with a photovoltaic panel on the back, which the promotional literature describes as “high-efficiency, ultra-lightweight personal solar power solution” (one for Pseuds Corner there). It also has removable sleeves, extendible keyholder (how often I’ve wished my coat had one of those…), magnetic windflaps, and also claims 360 degree rotation (this had me confused, what does that mean?). You can watch a short promo film (in the guise of a TV newspiece) here. It was, I guess, the next logical step, solar bags have been around for a while, such as Voltaic Solar Bags, which can charge your appliances as you walk about.
Perhaps in the same way that some shops in city centres pay people to walk around with signboards advertising their wares, the impacts of peak oil will result in it becoming cost effective for north-facing shops or shops with no roofs to pay people to walk around all day generating electricity in designer photovoltaic bodysuits. It set me thinking about the amount of money that must have gone into developing *”Trademarked PowerFLEX™, (whose) solar panels consist of unique flexible thin-film photovoltaic material made from copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) sun-absorbing material placed onto a thin substrate”*, when it still costs an arm and a leg to put actually useful PVs on the roof.
The blurb on their website states that *”PowerFLEX™ uses CIGS, which is 1.5 to 2X greater in performance than comparable thin film flexsible solar materials. CIGS has achieved the highest performance of any thin film solar cell technology in domestic and international laboratories”*. All so we can charge our mobiles on the move? Have we quite got our priorities right here? Of course I speak as one who is slightly biased, being one of the few people in Christendom still without a mobile phone. I went to Dublin a couple of years ago where EVERYBODY had one, and an incredulous woman asked why I didn’t have one, and, feeling rather provocative, I said “for the same reason you don’t put your head in a microwave oven for half an hour every day”. Actually the reason is that they are one of those things that as long as you don’t have one you don’t see them as necessary, but as soon as you have one they become completely indispensable. Anyway, I digress.
Have a look at ScotteVest’s website, at least unlike EPRIDA or the guys who make oil out of turkey giblets, they don’t claim that their jackets are a ‘solution’ to peak oil. However, one has to ask whether developing these things is really getting our priorities right. Perhaps I’m wrong, and you are all sat out there in your PV jackets which are powering your lap tops without which you would be unable to visit **TransitionCulture.org**, and will argue that they have completely transformed your lives. There is also the whole argument about the effects of electrical fields so close to the body, but that’s for another day. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this… Lucy Siege in Sunday’s Observer clearly thinks they are good idea, her Green Gauge had it as one of her ideas ‘going up’.