Integrating solar panels into a dress or any kind of clothing is a style challenge, a balance between looking very – let’s say – techie and the trade-off on solar power loss when integrated to subtle, too hidden and covered up.
Abbey Liebman, a senior at Cornell University gave this challenge a go and the outcome a solar power dress looks interesting. The placement of the flexible solar cells at the seam of the top part and around the arm at the shoulder are places where the solar cell will get most of the sun exposure and blend nicely into the dresses overall design.
Her motivation to create a solar power dress might come partly from her Universities Textiles Nanotech Laboratory which worked with two Italian universities to make cotton threads electrically conductive by coating them with semiconductor polymers and nano-particles.
The various solar cells are then connected via this conductive cotton thread which lead to a connector for iPod and other portable devices to be charged on the go – literally.
The coating is less than 100 nanometers thick to preserve the cotton’s flexibility and softness.
But here comes the catch when talking/using conductive thread or yarn: to ensure low resistance and allow power to flow freely through a medium it needs a certain cross section/thickness of conductive material to be efficient.
Reading nano scale layers of coating I seriously doubt this would be the best solution for electric current transfer. Maybe half of the collected sun energy will be lost along the thread before it hits the target.
Most conductive yarns on the market is conductive but come with a high resistance meaning the amount of electricity send out will be wasted while sending it over these yarn traces due to the resistance.
Designing wearable electronic needs considerable planning of conductive traces and distance between power source and power consuming elements and a careful selection of (very) low resistant yarn to ensure best use of electrical power coming from a battery or in this case, from the solar panels.
Coming back to the solar dress design – I love the concept, something solar power dress designer can take as inspirational input for future power dress designs.