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The Future Looks Bright for Mobile Solar

May 22 2017

How Alta Devices is leading the way in solar technology.

Anyone the least bit familiar with the energy industry knows that solar is booming. Generally, when we think of solar, we think of its larger applications, such as rooftop panels. But there is another exciting area where solar tech is burgeoning, one in which California-based Alta Devices is leading the way: mobile.

Several major industries make up the current market for mobile solar: unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) offer perhaps the most adaptable and diverse range of applications, but this technology is on the cusp of revolutionizing automotive design, wearable tech, consumer devices, and the Internet of Things (IoT).

This advancement in solar tech is made possible via the use of gallium arsenide (GaAs) solar cells. These cells, first developed in the 1970s, are the backbone of Alta Devices technology. Far more efficient than the silicone cells which power most solar panels, GaAs solar cells function as III-V semiconductors (with a Zinc Blende crystal structure). Naturally robust to moisture and UV radiation, they are incredibly durable and are able to absorb photons while producing a higher output of power density. On top of all of this, they are environmentally advantageous over silicone: they use less material while producing an equal or greater level of energy.

Starting out in rooftop solar manufacturing, Alta Devices pivoted to mobile as it discovered the key to mass production of thin film GaAs. This led to their breaking the world record for single-junction solar cell efficiency in 2010, and dual-junction cell efficiency in 2016 (a record which they currently hold at 31.6%). Named one of the “Most Disruptive Companies” by MIT two-years running (in 2012 and 2013), their work in “bringing high efficiency thin film GaAs solar technology to the mass market” has made them a leader in their industry. They are poised to continue this disruption as the market for mobile solar continues to expand.

Currently, the UAV industry is their largest client sector. As previously mentioned, this is where the applications for mobile solar show the most promise. Alta Device’s AnyLight™ power technology can be used to give drones longer battery life – to the point of 5X more daytime endurance, with almost zero impact on aerodynamics.

Unmanned systems, powered by solar energy, are being used for critical missions, precision agriculture such as irrigation and fertilizer monitoring, as well as global military surveillance operations. These high powered drones are well suited for extended range infrastructure inspection and surveying as well.

Drones are not the only mission-critical equipment being outfitted with this tech. Mobile health devices, such as solar blankets and backpacks, light units, and communication devices also make us of it.

This technology is a premium one, so the price range (to say nothing of the complexity of installation) have so far kept it mostly in the realm of B2B (business-to-business). B2C (business-to-consumer) is still a ways off, but it is inevitable.

In the near future, mobile solar tech will be used to extend the life of batteries (rather than replacing them outright), such as those that power electric and hybrid cars (via the sunroof), as well as wearable tech (such as personal fitness trackers) and IoT appliances. In fact, as IoT tech continues to permeate every part of day-to-day life, there will be a greater need for longer-lasting battery power, one that mobile solar will be primed to fill.

With the increasing demand for mobile solar technology, there will be a likewise need for logistics solutions that can ensure its proper shipping. This technology is susceptible to contamination, so just as special handling is required during the manufacturing stage in order to limit exposure to moisture and dust, so too must these considerations be taken when it comes to packaging and transportation. Because so much of this technology is required for upgrades on existing equipment, time-definite delivery will be the required standard for its transportation.

Aeronet Worldwide has been servicing Alta Devices for the past few years. Their experience in expedited shipping and white glove services, coupled with their extreme attention to detail, allow them to keep pace with the needs of Alta Devices, and the overall needs of the solar industry.

Alta Devices is in the process of educating new markets and businesses on the promise of mobile solar. Their consumer base is one that is generally well-educated on the technology, but as that consumer base expands, so too will the need to inform more and more people—in both the public and private sectors—of the exciting advances made possible thanks to mobile solar technology.

To that end, the future looks bright indeed.

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