Photovoltaic cells made from organic polymers, rather than crystalline silicon, could make solar power much cheaper. Last year Konarka, a startup based in Lowell, MA, opened a factory for such solar panels, which are flexible and produced in a process akin to printing (see “Mass Production of Plastic Solar Cells”). The first application of Konarka’s potentially transformative technology? Umbrellas. SkyShades, based in Orlando, FL, is incorporating the panels into umbrellas designed for outdoor seating areas in places like restaurants and bars. Patrons can recharge mobile devices such as laptops and cell phones from outlets built into the stem of the umbrella. The four-meter-wide Powerbrella can generate up to 128 watts of electricity, which charges a bank of batteries located in its base.
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