At the push of a button, this shipping container instantly transforms into a pop-up solar power station: Hidden solar panels slide out of drawers on each side and start immediately start generating energy wherever they’re needed, whether for disaster relief or in a remote village far off the grid.
Because the PowerCube is completely self-contained and designed to match the sizes of three standard shipping containers, it can travel quickly and easily. "It can ship anywhere in the world, whether it’s carried in by air or train or boat, and immediately be providing and storing energy," says Corey McGuire, director of marketing for Ecosphere Technologies, the company that developed the device.
The company spent seven years refining the design to maximize the amount of power that could be generated in a given footprint. Since the device has pop-out solar panels, it can produce as much as 400% more electricity than would be possible just by sticking solar panels on the roof—up to a maximum of 15 kilowatts.
"If you just used a normal given footprint of a shipping container, you won’t have enough solar power to provide major systems," says McGuire. "There’s just not enough square footage of solar. What we’re able to do is provide life-sustaining systems, whether it’s telecommunications, electricity, Internet, or water treatment systems."
The first model, released this month, includes onboard atmospheric water generators that pull water from the air. "We’re able to provide water without a water source," says McGuire.
Inside the device, there’s extra space that can be used in various ways. "A school could be placed underneath it, a hospital, sleeping quarters, whatever you can come up with," McGuire explains.
Because of the pop-up design, the power station can also easily be moved after it’s installed, or if bad weather is approaching, the solar panels can be popped back inside for protection. The systems can also be monitored and controlled from anywhere.
The design was inspired by a suggestion from Jean-Michel Cousteau, who serves on the company's board. "He asked us to figure out ways to bring energy, water, and communications to remote places—like a school in a village in the developing world—without the use of fossil fuels," says McGuire.
"We're limited to the current efficiencies of solar cells," he explains. "What we believe is that in order to bring much better systems to the developing world … you have to have more solar in a given footprint."