Air travel may be a must for some businesses (let alone holidaymakers in search of sun). But in the speedy digital age, there’s something awkward about spending hours in a pressurised container with no legroom.
That’s why we’re lucky to live in an age of personal devices that can let us work or play through even the longest trips. In theory.
Unfortunately, most of our devices just don’t last that long on one charge, especially once you take into account time spent in airports and transport before and after a flight.
And while some airlines have introduced power sockets throughout their planes, it’s a costly and inconvenient upgrade to an already expensive business.
But a recent innovation from B/E Aerospace could turn out to be an easy and eco-friendly solution.
Fighting for the window seat
The idea behind the Solar Eclipse Window Shade is simple. Super-thin solar cells fitted to the aeroplane’s window shades connect to a nearby USB socket, so travellers can charge their devices with free, green power from the sun.
But it’s more than just an environmentally-friendly new gimmick. It’s also a much easier system for airlines to install than traditional wiring and sockets.
There’s no need to take the plane apart and run wires to every seat, or work around any other cabin components. The only drawback, of course, is in deciding who gets to use it. Without running wires across the rest of the plane, those sitting in the aisles or the centre are unlikely to see any direct benefit.
Giving more than it takes
As well as the obvious advantages ofgreen energy at passengers’ fingertips, the new window shade design could actually make good financial sense, too.
It weighs only slightly more than an ordinary shade, and it’s claimed that the Solar Eclipse could actually generate more energy than the additional fuel required to carry it. A single large plane making several trips a day could save over 7,000 gallons of fuel per year, and cut out 154,000 pounds of CO2 emissions.
Coming to a window near you
The Solar Eclipse Window Shade is a welcome feature for both business travellers and bored kids, and it’s even made a considerable industry impression, recently beating the competition in the Greener Cabin, Health, Safety and Environment category of the Crystal Cabin Awards in Hamburg.
But it also marks a significant step forward in bringing efficient, small solar technology into the commercial realm.
Students at Deakin University have been using plasma technology (high-energy gases with positive and negative charges) to improve existing solar cells, so that we could ultimately see high-output, thin, flexible panels on window blinds, car roofs – or even on backpacks.
Many solar panels can be quite large. But if these newer, smaller cells are made widely available, we could start to see them all over our buildings and devices – which would mean serious savings in the costs of business electricity.
It’s certainly a vision that Gayathri Devi Rajmohan, a PhD student at Deakin, thinks could one day become a reality.
‘We believe this is one step closer to seeing our city buildings covered with cheap, flexible and efficient solar panels, so that, just like a rainforest, every bit of sunlight is captured and used without leaving any carbon footprint.’