Professor Harald Haas demonstrating the connected solar panel at TED Global 2015

Solar power could bring WiFi to developing nations

A wireless communication device that uses solar energy to provide data services has been developed by researchers at the University of Edinburgh. 

The research team, led by Professor Harald Haas, from the university’s Li-Fi R&D department have developed a device which utilises solar energy to produce power for light-based data communications, or ‘Li-Fi’ technology, which use light, rather than radio waves, to transmit data.

The prototype, using a solar panel, provides the energy needed for Li-Fi technology, as well as acting as a broadband receiver for data services. Solar cells within the panel double up as communication nodes, receiving high-speed data while simultaneously providing electrical power for their own operation.

"This technology combines light-based data communications, or ‘Li-Fi’, with energy harvesting, to create an exciting set of applications not previously anticipated, including in rural broadband access, smart city networks and the internet of things,” said Tom Higson, IP projects manager of Edinburgh Research and Innovation.

“The wider opportunity is to transform global communications by speeding up the process of bringing internet and other data communication functionality to remote and poorer regions in a way not previously thought achievable due to lack of infrastructure and investment,” he says.

During a demonstration of the technology at this September’s TED Global event in London, Professor Haas suggested that such devices could be put in place in areas with limited data communications, where solar panels could be placed on houses to absorb power and receive data at the same time.

“The potential expansion to the internet is massive and my aspiration is that this broadband solar panel receiver technology for Li-Fi will help solve the challenges of the digital divide throughout the world and catalyse the uptake of the IoT, as connectivity and battery-free power supplies are essential if we want to connect a trillion objects to the internet,” he said.

If utilised, the technology could bring significant benefits to millions of people across the world, particularly those populations in rural communities and developing nations which lack existing infrastructures for electric power and data communications. 

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