IMPACT JOURNALISM DAY 2015: FLOATING SOLUTIONS

Solar balloon brings electricity to disaster sites

The photovoltaic balloon is capable of generating energy in disaster areas where it is not possible to install landbased infrastructure.
The photovoltaic balloon is capable of generating energy in disaster areas where it is not possible to install landbased infrastructure. PHOTO: ZEPHYR

This story was first published on June 20, 2015

HALFWAY between a balloon and a kite, a flying device called Zephyr is assisting those deprived of electricity in disaster areas.

Designed by students from the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, the device can generate energy anywhere.

It is made up of a box with an electrical transformer and a lightweight sail. Measuring 3.8m in diameter, the sail is covered with 15 sq m of lightweight solar panels.

Mr Cedric Tomissi, one of the two designers behind the project, said: "All you need to do is unfurl the sail and allow it to inflate.

"The balloon collects solar energy and transports it to the ground via a cable, while the batteries store surplus energy and take over the power supply at night."

The device can yield up to 3kwh of power, putting it on a par with a traditional generator.

It can supply lighting and heating to 50 people in, say, a refugee camp or an emergency hospital.

The designers have won several awards, including the 2014 James Dyson Award.

A technical feasibility study was carried out on the photovol-taic balloon in November last year.

The next stage is to build an initial prototype.

The team will need about €25,000 (S$38,000) to do that. It has received around €10,000 from various prizes. A fund-raising campaign is set to run from September to January.

The team hopes to move the project into an industrial phase and start selling the device in 2018. About €1 million will be needed at this stage.

In the long term, the aim is to sell an entire range of balloons for various uses, including non-humanitarian applications.

Said Ms Julie Dautel, the other designer: "The balloon can be used for homes in remote areas where the roof cannot take the weight of traditional solar panels, at campsites and in nomadic encampments like those found in Africa and Asia. It can even be used to support communications technology."

CAROLINE DE MALET/LE FIGARO (FRANCE)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2016, with the headline 'Solar balloon brings electricity to disaster sites'. Print Edition | Subscribe