I pulled out the latest issue of Green Futures for a bit of light relief. It instantly lifted my mood as it reminded me just… how exciting sustainability issues can be.
A new solar shelter offers energy-efficient warmth outdoors, and even removes smoke from the air.
A small American design firm claims it can solve a problem rife on the streets of Paris, among many other cities: the patio heater. On average, one of these produces 50kg of CO2 per year, warming small patches of air on chilly streets, where the heat soon dissipates.
Smoking exacerbates demand for them: according to the New York Times, 30% of Paris’ inhabitants smoke, and since the indoor smoking ban was introduced in France in 2008, patio heaters have become ever more popular.
Amorphica’s new solar-powered ‘Urban Parasol’ won’t help smokers quit, but it does offer a low-carbon way to keep warm on the terrace. The design, which resembles a synthetic forest canopy, would fit easily onto restaurants and other buildings, providing shelter as well as heat. The large parasols incorporate energy-efficient heating and LED lighting with motion and thermocouple sensory technology. This means they can adjust to provide more shelter during colder, wetter weather and also turn themselves off when no movement is detected in the vicinity.
The Urban Parasol’s solar photovoltaic panels track the sun as it moves across the sky, and reorient to maximise energy absorption. Energy is stored in a battery pack, and the designers claim the system could also be fitted with an inverter to send excess back to the grid.
Space blanket insulation lines the underneath of the panels in order to reflect heat back towards users instead of letting it escape. Moreover, an absorbent material on its ground-facing surface will remove cigarette smoke from the air and dampen noise pollution.
The device will soon be trialled in Paris – the result of a request by the city’s Deputy Mayor, Jean-Louis Missika, for solutions to the patio heater problem. When no French firms stepped forward, the city issued a global request through Citymart’s Living Labs Global Award, which aims to match cities with innovators, leading to pilot projects that benefit both parties. Citymart claim that the companies involved reduce the time-to-market for their products by 70% and save an average of EUR 240,000 in the process.
Professor Derek Clements-Croome, an expert on environmental engineering architecture and sustainability at Reading University, believes that umbrella or canopy-type designs have the potential to do more than simply protect people from the elements, and says that the Urban Parasol marks a "step in this direction"
It will initially be installed on restaurant terraces and patios, before being rolled-out to bus stops and service posts. An advisor to the Deputy Mayor has affirmed that: “If Parisians like the parasols, we’ll take them large-scale.” – Alex Fenton
Photo credit: Amorphica Design Research Office