The latest application of solar power

July 15, 2009 2:00:50 PM PDT
Necessity is always said to be the mother of invention, and a Houston inventor has big plans for what he's created, especially in the case that another hurricane causes huge power losses.At first glance, it's an ice cooler on wheels. But, it actually contains what could be a preview of surviving without power after a storm.

A storm like Ike, where some communities waited weeks before electricity was restored and those with generators had to line up for fuel, where they could find it, gave DeVry University student Ben Claver an idea. He attached a solar panel to a battery, which "goes into an inverter and from there into my waterproof outlet," he said.

It's the same technology used in solar-powered outdoor lighting, but Claver packaged it into a mobile generator that can charge all day in the sun and then power, for example, a light bulb and a fan for five hours. And, already he says he's working on a smaller and more powerful version.

"At some point you can get the wattage high enough that I could charge the battery quicker," Claver explained. "That means I can do a refrigerator or a little air conditioning unit."

All of this was born of a class assignment from DeVry professor Kal Massad. Now his wife wants to buy one of his student's mobile generators.

"She would love to have one to use in an emergency," Massad said. "A lot of people on this campus do because three weeks without power is no fun."

Claver prices his solar generator at about $1200. If the idea takes off, though, increased production would lower the cost. Claver's idea remains more expensive and for now less powerful than gas generators, but the power is provided free of charge by the sun. And, there's one extra: the ability to store ice in the cooler, something else to get folks through a storm.

It's just the latest application of solar power that could provide some relief for Houstonians during hurricane season.

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