An island off the coast of Cardiff now gets electricity from an unconventional mat. These flexible solar panels can be unrolled like a carpet from a trailer and can start pumping out electricity in under two minutes.

Credit: Renovagen.

Credit: Renovagen.

This innovative concept is called the Rapid Roll system and this instance was the first long-term deployment of this ‘solar carpet’ anywhere in the UK. The tiny island of Flat Holm — a wildlife haven and important breeding ground — proved to be an excellent test site for such a technology. Renovagen, the company behind Rapid Roll, envisions their product being deployed in situations where portable power is urgently needed such as in the wake of natural disasters. The military might also find it useful to unfurl solar panels wherever power is required.

Thinking outside the box

John Hingley, the managing director of Renovagen, first came up with the idea for a solar mat while he traveling five years ago. The engineer was inspired by the mobile solar devices he came across during his trips and eventually realized that scaling this concept could be made easier by rolling the solar panels. Luckily, flexible solar panels that can bend without power loss or damage have become far more accessible in the meantime.

Credit: Renovagen.

Credit: Renovagen.

Since they’re rollable, you can fit a much larger power capacity into an enclosure than rigid solar panels. A 4×4 trailer can fit enough rolled panels to power a 120-bed mobile clinic or desalinate 25,000 liters of seawater per day. The deployment strikingly takes only two minutes. A much larger version rolls out solar power from a shipping container in less than an hour for 300 kW of power. According to Hingley, the same container can fit 10 times more power output in rolled panels than traditional rigid panels.

Aerial photo of Flat Holm island. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Aerial photo of Flat Holm island. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

While Flat Holm doesn’t really have any permanent residents, Cardiff Council enlisted Renovagen to supply power to the island because it still sees hundreds of visitors yearly who come here for the wildlife. There’s a lighthouse, a few shacks, and a pub of course. Until recently, the island got its electricity from some conventional solar panels and a diesel generator. Seeing how this is a wildlife haven, the Council found it fitting to find a more sustainable source.

“We are delighted to have completed our deployment of Rapid Roll solar power systems to Flat Holm Island and Lamby Way,” said Hingley. “We have been able to demonstrate the outstanding mobility and robustness of the Rapid Roll system on Flat Holm. This was achieved via delivery of the unit to a beach by landing craft, through repositioning hundreds of meters away and full deployment of the solar field – all in only one hour.”

Enjoyed this article? Join 40,000+ subscribers to the ZME Science newsletter. Subscribe now!

Like us on Facebook