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Solar ambition: tents powered by the sun

Trend Watch | June 1, 2012 | By:

The evolution of a mobile solar-powered structure.

Scott Gibson of New Sun Productions is the first to admit that new technology can be like venturing into a rabbit hole. The system designer based in Highland, N.Y., has spent more than seven years down one of those rabbit holes, developing a mobile structure that supports solar-powered equipment.

“What is exciting now is not only the progress from a power-generating standpoint but also the progress in energy efficient appliances,” he says. “Programs like Energy Star are working with industries from the power consumption end while solar is gaining better results from the generating and cost standpoint.”

Gibson tested a solar tent in 2006, and then developed the Alpha Tent with a 20-by-40-foot Western Shelter frame donated by Brookstone Emergency Services, a California-based emergency and disaster services contractor. The structure housed a stereo system, lights and television that ran on batteries charged with solar power generated by thin-film arrays. Developing an environmental education program called Ecopioneer to secure sponsorships, Gibson demonstrated the system at music festivals, bike rallies and eco events.

In the next phase, Gibson broke down the structure into a smaller unit and used an upgraded silver reflective material, with the tent skin on the interior of the frame to create a buffer zone between the solar panels, which generate heat along with power, and the tent interior. The silver material acts as a thermal barrier reflecting heat, with a noticeable difference even over white tent tops.

To date, Gibson’s efforts are cost prohibitive from a straightforward per-watt standpoint, but the cost equation works for specialty event marketing programs and tours, he says. And he believes legitimate applications are close to fruition, especially for disaster relief and permanent tensile structures such as yurts and carports. Whether the tent and event industry wants to adopt the technology, he says, depends on why an event company would use a solar tent.

“Do they want to reduce their footprint or just have another specialty rental?” he says. “One is a commitment. The other a simple marketing tool.”

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