When thinking about solar energy, most of us conjure up images of rectangular arrays of blue photovoltaic (PV) panels covering rooftops or stretched across fields, abandoned mines, former landfills and even water. Not to mention planes, boats and cars. Or even, as described in my last post, the clothes we wear outdoors.
We would be forgiven therefore, for concluding that solar technology only works outside, directly under the sun, where internal silicon cells can most efficiently capture the sun’s energy and convert it into clean electricity.
But what about indoors?
London-based Dutch designer Marjan van Aubel has created the world’s first piece of furniture to harvest energy indoors from diffused light. Current Table 2.0 is a brilliant piece of functional minimalist design: an orange-tinted glass surface encased in a sleek aluminum frame supported by four wooden legs.
This is how it works: According to Wired, the specific orange color of the glass surface helps nanoparticles of titanium oxide embedded within the glass to absorb ambient light; these nanoparticles then release electrons, creating an electrical current similar to the process of photosynthesis in plants. The electricity generated by this current can be used directly, or can be stored in a battery hidden in the perimeter of the table for later use.
A USB port located on one of the legs of the table can charge mobile devices at a rate of 500mA, the same rate as plugging into a laptop’s USB port. A network of cables is cleverly hidden within the table’s aluminum perimeter.
The concept behind the Current Table 2.0 is nothing short of revolutionary. This table, designed for home or office, is independent of any electric power source apart from itself. No need to move the table closer to an electrical wall socket, or to dangle electric cables over the edge to connect your electronics to an electrical wall socket.
van Aubel developed the self-sufficient Current Table 2.0 in collaboration with engineer Peter Krige. Together, they created Caventou, a company whose goal is to integrate solar technology subtly into our everyday lives, without us even being aware of it. Much more subtle than installing an array of solar panels on our roofs.
“I am a designer, and I would like to change things through design. My aim is to make people think differently about solar technology. Give them a choice. Literally, give power to the consumer.”
—Marjan van Aubel
In a 2016 interview in The Guardian, van Aubel explained: “You’ll collect the most power [indoors] on bright, clear days. That being said, dye-sensitized solar panels are less affected by diffuse light levels and shadow from clouds. Although the efficiency of the solar panel will decrease in cloudy conditions, you’ll still be collecting valuable power from the sun. On an average day in London indoors, it can power three phones and an iPad or one computer and a phone.”
Caventou also developed Current Window, a modern take on stained glass with USB ports in the window ledge. Designed on the same principle as Current Table 2.0, Current Window uses glass panels that are made from dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSC) which use the properties of color to create an electrical current.
Check out this beautiful video from Caventou:
This article is part of the Renewable Energy series.
Joan Sullivan is a renewable energy photographer based in Québec, Canada. Since 2009, Joan has focused her cameras (and more recently her drones) exclusively on solutions to climate change. She is convinced that the inevitable transition to a 100% clean energy economy will happen faster – and within our lifetimes – by creating positive images and stories that help us visualize and embrace what a post-carbon future will look like. Joan collaborates frequently with filmmakers on documentary films that explore the human side of the energy transition. She is currently working on a photo book about the energy transition. Her renewable energy photos have been exhibited in group shows in Canada and the UK. You can find Joan onTwitter and Instagram.