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PowerPlant

A democratic solar infrastructure

In our digital world, electricity is as essential as water. So why is electricity not available everywhere in public spaces?

Power Plant addresses this problem by offering a solution that can be installed on top of existing infrastructure in the urban landscape. Using solar cells in combination with fluorescent acrylic makes the charging station not a visual obstacle in the city but a new, emblematic piece of lively urban culture. The transparent solar panel principle is particularly suitable for diffuse light conditions and, therefore, for less sunny regions. The charging stations are installed in quieter urban spaces, such as squares or parks, so citizens can charge their devices while there. As a solar charging station, Power Plant provides free public electricity and creates a social venue that eliminates the need for lockers.

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Concept

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In the early stages of the project, uses for solar technologies were explored creatively in several design sprints.

First drafts revolved around questions as to what objects could gain by being energetically self-sufficient, what rituals might emerge by harvesting sunlight, and what services and artefacts could be implemented on a bigger scale.

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Solar energy has the very appealing potential to create independence and to add onto existing infrastructure, paving the way for a democratic network for and by the public. The concept unites all three principles in a prototype for a public solar charging station and, ultimately, a democratic solar infrastructure.

Research

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The research for the project started by understanding how solar cells work, comprehending electric circuits, and building small functioning solar „bots“ ourselves. This was done via workshops and aided by theoretical research and presentations.

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To explore our concept and its potential, a functional rough prototype was built to put it into a public context and see if and how people would interact with it. These findings informed the next steps we took in our design approach, such as the shape of the device holder and how the object must evoke a sense of professionalism to ensure trust by its users.

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We decided to use the LSC (luminescent solar cell) technology. The luminescent sheet material breaks longwave into shortwave light lightrays and concentrates the solar energy along the edges, where it gets harvested by monocrystalline solar cells. This technology is especially effective in diffuse light conditions and almost doubles the efficiency of the solar cells.

Ideation

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The design process was started with scaled versions of the charging stations made out of paper and cardboard to get a sense of scale and shape. Visually, the collector itself was inspired by similar „collectors“ found in nature, such as leaves or mushrooms.

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Defining the collector shape was done through small paper cutouts, which were grouped and bent in different directions to define a shape that looked natural and familiar without being undefined.

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The holding bracket for the collector needs to have good static qualities without looking too bulky. For that purpose, steel pipes can be bent into a shape that relates to the form of the collector.

Final Prototype

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A final semi-functional prototype was an important goal in the project since it firstly provides an object to spark a conversation over public solar energy and secondly gives a basis for interaction feedback with users to hear their thoughts and suggestions on form and functionality, thereby informing possible next steps in design iterations.

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Firstly, the solar collector made out of luminescent acrylic sheet was built. The shape was cut out of sheets with the laser cutter. Afterwards, the acrylic was heated with space heaters to 70°–100°C and then bent on a selt-built positive mould and pulled down with molton sheets. These were tacked down under pressure and left until the material was cool again.

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Then the holding bracket was formed out of metal tubes in combination with 3D prints to allow for the intricate bends. With this design, PowerPlant can be attached to any pole with a diameter of 8cm or less.

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Choosing the color for the components was a longer process, but in the end, the decision was made that a monochrome yellow color scheme would be ideal to act as a signal in urban areas.

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The solar cells that collect the energy along the edges are protected by an edge protection profile made of rubber. From there, the power is led via cable into the holding bracket where two batteries are stored and get charged continuously. This allows for charging at night or in poorer light conditions, as well as quick charging.

Results

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Outlook

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The next step in the project is to take the focus off the object and develop PowerPlant as a network that not only acts as an advertisement for the products but can be used by the public to inform themselves about PowerPlant and organize to demand action from cities and communities. This is how a truly democratic solar infrastructure will be created.

Fachgruppe

Produkt-Design

Art des Projekts

Studienarbeit im Hauptstudium

Betreuung

foto: Hans Illiger foto: Felix Groll foto: Prof. Judith Glaser foto: Prof. carola zwick

Zugehöriger Workspace

Heliobolici : kleine solare Selbstversorger

Entstehungszeitraum

Sommersemester 2022