May 25, 2009 A retractable alfresco umbrella that converts sunlight into electricity to charge laptops, mobile phones, iPods or any other portable device that might be used relaxing or working outdoors is in development following a partnership between Skyshades, a supplier of shade structures, and Konarka Technologies, the developer of Power Plastic.

The canopy of the Powerbrella – designed for alfresco venues, such as cafes, restaurants and hotel swimming pools – uses Konarka's Power Plastic, a lightweight, flexible film that captures the sun's energy. Power is stored in batteries inside the stem of the Powerbrella, which also has outlets to plug electronic equipment into. It certainly beats running extension cords all over the place, threatening to trip you up.

The Powerbrella was proven viable after testing throughout 2008 at Lake Highland Preparatory School in Orlando, Florida, where physics students measured how effective the Powerbrella was withstanding the natural elements, how capable the Power Plastic panels were in generating green energy and how much power the batteries could store. A year later, Skyshades has received its first shipment of Konarka Power Plastic, which will be used to begin mass-producing the umbrellas.

Skyshades doesn’t intend on limiting the use of Power Plastic to the Powerbrella, with plans to incorporate the technology into a prototype parking structure. Eventually Skyshades believes the technology will be used in a range of its tension-membrane structures in car washes, stadiums, amphitheaters, car parking areas and retro-fitted roofs, either as a direct source of power or stored power that can be resold into a power grid.

The SKYshades Powerbrella powered by Konarka Technologies Power Plastic is expected to be available from July.

Darren Quick

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