When Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines earlier this year, many thousands were left dead, and huge swaths of the most affected region were effectively leveled. As well as this, hundreds of thousands of people were left without electricity or clean water. Luckily, through the rapid work of aid agencies, the Philippines government, and the US Navy, further deaths from poor sanitation were largely avoided.
But what if there was an easier way to quickly bring critical utilities back online? Ecosphere Technologies Inc, has been working on a system which it is calling the Ecos PowerCube, for situations such as this. Comprised of a shipping container filled with solar panels and the water purifications systems, the PowerCube is a highly mobile and high tech solution.
Once it arrives on site - either through air drop or on the back of a regular truck - its solar panel array deploys like a series of flower petals. These, once fully operational, can generate up to 15kW of power, which is then put to use powering Ecosphere’s advanced water purification systems. In addition to this, the PowerCube will also act as a giant WiFi hotspot, able to connect with devices at up to 30 miles in range.
As well as being useful in disaster zones, Ecosphere Technologies is also hoping to market the PowerCube to military forces and third world countries. They believe that the system could be used in remote or forward-deployed military bases to provide power and water, or for similar purposes in refugee or IDP camps within underdeveloped countries.
The obvious benefit to this system is that, due to its solar panels, it can operate for extended periods of time without an external fuel source. This solar power however, is also its greatest weakness. While the PowerCube can only generate a maximum of 15kW of power, a similar sized diesel generator can produce close to 100 times that (600kW-1.7mW). In addition, due to the lack of batteries on the PowerCube, it can only supply power during the day, rather than the 24 hours which is necessary for military applications.
Clearly the PowerCube is a nice piece of design and technology, however for it to be attractive to its main customers it will need to address these critical issues.
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