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Technology

In-flight solar power to remove ‘battery anxiety’

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Solar-powered window shades will soon be able to charge our personal electronic devices mid-flight. Recharging your tablet, phone or laptop could be as easy as plugging into the window shade near your seat.

You know what I mean, that sinking feeling when you realise your phone or other device is about to blank out – just as you board your plane. You know you should have charged everything in the terminal, but there just wasn’t enough time.

Travellers will be pleased to know the problem is on the way to being solved. A winning mix of renewable energy technology, sunlight and solar cells is being developed by engineers at B/E Aerospace.

The 2015 Crystal Cabin Award – an international award for aircraft cabin products and concepts – went to B/E Aerospace for a design called the Solar Eclipse, which could soon recharge our personal electronic devices in-flight via the power of sunlight.

The Solar Eclipse is a solar-powered window shade with USB power outlets. With the growing availability of Wi-Fi service on aircraft and/or wireless entertainment offered by airlines, being able to recharge while flying to their destination will be a blessing for battery-anxious passengers.

Just plug in and play

Recharging your tablet, phone or laptop could be as easy as plugging into the window shade near your seat.

“The Solar Eclipse brings DC power directly to passengers where no power exists,” B/E Aerospace told the judges of the Crystal Cabin Awards. The Solar Eclipse won the top prize in the Greener Cabin category.

“Super-efficient thin film solar cells integrated into the window shade convert the high-solar irradiation available at altitude into 8-44 watts of energy,” the judges were told.

As a result, B/E Aerospace says Solar Eclipse prevents passengers from suffering through what it calls ‘battery anxiety.’

Simple to install

The beauty of Solar Eclipse is that it’s simple for technicians to install. It requires no change to the rest of the cabin components, making it a quick power supply option for airlines to choose.

It also weighs only slightly more than an ordinary window shade at 29-50 grams. B/E Aerospace says the Solar Eclipse will actually “generate more energy than the extra fuel required” to carry it, meaning that “on a single 737 making six 1000 nautical mile trips every day, the Solar Eclipse would yield a savings of around USD$22,000, fuel savings of over 27,633 litres per year, and reduce 69,853 kilograms of CO2 emissions.

The main challenge of the Solar Eclipse for both airlines and passengers is deciding who benefits from all this free power.

Passengers seated near a Solar Eclipse window could choose share with the rest of the row. Airlines could also choose to charge more for the window seat, leading to the rise of a new elite class in the Economy section.

Check out the Wall Street Journal’s Solar Eclipse video.

The possibilities are endless for the airline industry, plus many others.