What could be more refreshing than casting off your carbon shackles with a bunch of solar balloons? Our favorite environmental architect visionary, Joseph Cory, of Geotectura has seized this dream with an award winning way to take solar energy to the skies. He’s teamed up with Technion aerospace engineer Dr. Pini Gurfil to develop an an array of helium filled platforms constructed from a new fabric coated with photovoltaic solar cells. Dubbed Sunhope, the project is showing great promise as a low-cost deployable system that would harness solar energy while maintaining a minuscule environmental footprint.

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Some of solar energy’s biggest milestones are its daunting barriers to entry: traditional systems require high initial investments, large land requirements, and an in-depth installation process. The Sunhope project seeks to circumvent all of these factors by constructing low-cost photovoltaic arrays designed for vertical clearance rather than horizontal sprawl.

These solar balloons are as low-impact as power plants get, since their infrastructure is composed entirely of a control panel, a helium supply cable, and a power cable. Residential possibilities abound, as Cory and Gurfil estimate that one or two balloons would fulfill the electrical needs for one home, and they have suggested that multiple balloons can be linked together to power apartments and communities.

The design is also ideal for a multitude of off-the-grid applications, with the potential to bring power to deserts, isolated islands, ocean-bound freighters, and heavily forested landscapes. Additionally, the balloons’ eminently deployable nature makes them perfect for disaster and emergency situations, since the balloons are quick to set up and can be delivered via air.

Cory and Gurfil have constructed several prototypes and have conducted research to show that a 10 ft balloon could provide around a kilowatt of energy (equivalent to 25 square meters of solar panels). Their target cost is $4,000 per balloon, compared to the $10,000 it would cost for a solar field producing the same amount of energy. The balloons will last about a year without needing maintenance, and Cory and Gurfil are working hard to make the balloons as wind resistant as possible by experimenting with size and structure.

We’ve covered solar balloons in the past, but we were thoroughly impressed by SunHope’s low cost, high mobilization potential, and site-specific versatility. + Geotectura

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