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A Futuristic Approach to Adding Solar Power to Public Space

In the form of a giant, glowing cube.


Imagine walking down the street and stumbling upon a glowing cube that looks like it came straight out of TRON. But what you see is not exactly from the future — it’s e-QBO, a modular invention of a group of Italian designers who have been searching for a better way to harness solar power for public spaces.

Born out of a collaboration between Romolo Stanco from design firm T°RED and energy research institution Ricerca Sistema Energetico, e-QBO is autonomous and off-grid, but integrated into the city through the services it provides. Installed on top of a wood and steel structure, custom-designed solar panels soak up sunlight during the day and store energy in battery packs of up to 90 kWh. The e-QBO can then power services like video-mapping installations, charging ports for mobile devices and electric vehicles, and WiFi. Customizable LED lights also offer public lighting.

The unit's design theoretically allows it to adapt to all sorts of urban conditions and needs. The base PV panels are 1 x 1 meter, but can easily be built up to cubes that are 3 x 3 meter, 6 x 6 meter, and so on. This means the e-QBO can just sit there like a power-generating rock or scale up to become an inhabitable space—a lounge, pop-up shop, or visitor information center, for example.

The first complete prototype of e-QBO came together last summer. It’s a 5 x 5 meter cube and takes a few people about three days to set up. According to Erica Marson, vice president and general manager at T°RED, e-QBO’s ease of assembly means it can be deployed for a week or a month, and then dismantled for reassembly on the other side of town or in a different city altogether.

Since last June, the debut e-QBO has been installed in a variety of settings, including Piazza San Fedele in Milan, and Selinunte, an archaeological site in Sicily.

e-QBO at Piazza San Fedele in Milan
e-QBO at Piazza San Fedele in Milan
e-QBO at Selinunte in Sicilly 

At last month's World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, e-QBO generated a lot of attention since its portability could be particularly useful for desert regions.

The city of Piacenza, 60 km. southeast of Milan, has already placed an order. Marson says the city wants to use it as an information hub, in anticipation of Expo 2015. There’s interest in setting up e-QBOs in African villages, too, where the solar cubes could serve as small-scale clinics or schools capable of powering computers, cell-phone charging, and lighting after dark. The firm is also working with a tourist resort in Lebanon to develop a much larger version of e-QBO, with an internal space in the range of 200 sq.m.

At 5 x 5 m., e-QBO currently runs about $150,000. Marson thinks that’s rather affordable, considering the product can be used again and again, in a variety of locations.

All images courtesy of T°RED.
Top image: e-QBO at Piazza San Fedele in Milan.  

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