Apple has lodged a patent for revolutionary new solar technology that could soon see iPods, iPhones and some laptops powered by the sun.
The design involves inserting razor-fine silicon solar PV cells inside the device’s LCD screen and converting the light captured into electricity to charge the batteries. Although the surface area of these screens is relatively small, more solar energy could be captured by transforming the keypad interface into a LCD touchpad.
Small solar-powered personal devices have been around for some time. Many calculators and watches have tiny solar arrays that power the batteries and never need recharging. However iPods can use between 250,000 and 1 million times the energy needed to keep a digital watch running on time. Hence the need for a much more efficient and powerful solar cells.
There are still concerns over the use of solar energy in portable devices such as mobile phones and iPods, which are typically stored in pockets or purses and are not always exposed to sunlight. And although silicon solar cells do not need direct sunlight to work, they collect a lot less energy indoors or on a cloudy day.
The most efficient solar cells on the market convert the sun’s energy into electricity at about 20% efficiency. In an optimal use environment, say on a cloudless sunny day, an iPhone equipped with Apple’s potential new technology could generate around 1 watt of energy, not enough to solely power the device, but enough to significantly extend the life of the battery. Almost anything solar-powered would still need to have a battery to store the captured energy.
Scott Bourne, executive producer of the Apple iPhone Show on iTunes said he would not expect to see the implementation of solar powered Apple products for at least five years, but is excited by the prospect. “Cell phone battery power is always an issue for users who inevitably want longer-lasting power than they have,” he said.