U of Houston sells first SPACE mobile solar generators for disaster relief

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U of Houston sells first SPACE mobile solar generators for disaster reliefThe University of Houston (UH) sold the City of Houston 17 of its SPACE photovoltaic generators. The generators are designed for emergency relief efforts and were purchased by Houston to serve in the recovery efforts from future hurricanes.

The units contain refrigerators and air conditioning to provide relief and also to allow emergency equipment to be hooked up when needed.

“We view it as a mobile field office,” said Joe Meppelink, director of the UH Green Building Components (UHGBC) applied research program and a UH professor. The units could be used as a mobile medical center, with refrigeration for critical medications, or a communications center during disaster recovery, he said.

Houston recently awarded a $1.35 million contract to UHGBC to construct the SPACE (Solar Powered Adaptive Containers for Everyone) stations, which will be built and in place for the 2011 hurricane season.

“It’s a great first sale,” Meppelink said.

The mobile devices are built out of recycled shipping containers, according to UH. They were designed by the UHGBC in the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and industry partners, including Metalab, Harvest Moon Development and ttweak.

The units have 3.5-kilowatt photovoltaic arrays and battery storage, Meppelink said.

“They’re about about two to two-and-a-half times more powerful than any solar generator we’ve seen with a comparable footprint,” he said. “We can scale that using the same armature, up to as many 6.7 kilowatts.” That’s accomplished by orienting the arrays in a portrait position instead of a landscape position and putting modules on the container’s roof, according to Meppelink.

The array folds up onto the top of the container.

“The real invention is this articulating racking system that allows it to fold flat. It’s a 16-inch tall package allowing it to travel and go under bridges,” Meppelink said. The units can be placed via helicopter, crane or a slide-off trailer, he said. “It can be ready in 20 minutes.”

When they’re not being used for disaster recovery, which is hopefully never needed, they’ll be used throughout Houston, according to Meppelink.

“They will be stationed at Neighborhood Centers around Houston,” he said. Neighborhood Centers is Houston’s oldest nonprofit and serves impoverished neighborhoods.

Others will be at fire stations on trailers for rapid deployment, and others still will be at city parks. “The idea is to use these units as much as possible throughout the year,” he said.

There’s already been a lot of interest in the units, according to Meppelink, and they’re looking to sell more of SPACE generators and to work with other groups to deploy them.

“Early on, we spoke with Containers to Clinics. That was probably two years ago. That’s probably an agency we’ll get back in touch with,” he said.

Image courtesy of Metalab.