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Volvo portable solar pavilion could power plug-ins of the future


July 18, 2013

Pure Tension Volvo Pavilion

Pure Tension Volvo Pavilion

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"How am I going to prevent that battery from dying on my trip?" It's a sentiment that's been echoed again and again, even by the most ardent EV early adopters, and certainly by the auto consuming public at large. With only 100 miles (161 km) of battery power on a good day, and few charging stations along most routes, the fear of sputtering out on the highway is real and pervasive. With help from a collaborative of designers and architects, Volvo shows one possible solution – a collapsible, carport-sized solar charging pavilion named Pure Tension.

Created by Synthesis Design + Architecture, Buro Happold and Fabric Images, the Pure Tension Volvo Pavilion will be fully revealed in Rome on September 15. It took home first place in the Switch to Pure Volvo Pavilion Design Competition, sponsored by Volvo Car Italia and The Plan magazine. The competition tasked designers with creating pavilions for display at outdoor fairs and events, and the Pure Tension design beat out 150 other submissions from around the world thanks to its "visual impact," "high quality," and "advancement of technology through form, materials, and functionality."

The Pure Tension is an interesting portable solar charging kit that's deployed over the top of Volvo's V60 plug-in hybrid. The "free-standing tensioned membrane structure" is created from a tensioned HDPE mesh skin with embedded photovoltaic panels inside a carbon fiber frame. The pavilion holds its shape by the equilibrium created by the carbon fiber rods stretching out and tensioned mesh pulling in. It plugs directly into the V60, delivering electricity collected from sun or artificial lighting.

According to Synthesis, the Pure Tension is easy to set up and break down, and it compacts into a tent-sized bag small enough to fit inside the V60's trunk. The basic materials can create pavilions in a multitude of forms and sizes for display at dealerships, demonstrations and car shows.

While the Pure Tension is designed as a pavilion, it's easy to imagine it as the jumping off point for a consumer solar charger, a portable solar carport of sorts. Its highly stretchable design means that it could be transported in the car, but offers many more solar cells than rooftop systems available on cars like the Fisker Karma. Park your plug-in car in a parking lot with sufficient space and sun, and the tensioned solar charger recharges the battery while the car is parked.

The Pure Tension is just a concept, however, and its designers haven't provided any information on how much electricity it produces. Many a concept and design study looks great on paper and display, but disappears shortly thereafter. We don't anticipate this one becoming a reality anytime soon, but hopefully we'll learn a little more about it in September.

Source: Synthesis Design + Architecture via Treehugger

About the Author
C.C. Weiss Upon graduating college with a poli sci degree, Chris toiled in the political world for several years. Realizing he was better off making cynical comments from afar than actually getting involved in all that mess, he turned away from matters of government and news to cover the things that really matter: outdoor recreation, cool cars, technology, wild gadgets and all forms of other toys. He's happily following the wisdom of his father who told him that if you find something you love to do, it won't really be work. All articles by C.C. Weiss

Looks like fun on a windy day. Surely panels on the roof and bonnet would work better?


Looks lovely. But seriously Chris, has no-one been paying any attention to what Tesla is doing? This idea is obsolete already (not to mention seriously impractical). Buy a Model S - luxury with a 300 mile range with 90 sec full re-power or free recharge in 20 mins, from a network that already covers both US coasts, and is on schedule to cover the full mainland US in a couple more years. And that's not even with next years batteries, which will be even better.

The mainstream auto makers are going to get seriously left behind (deservedly) if they don't get real about providing decent electric solutions rather than the overpriced, underwhelming half attempts they are currently flogging.

Mark C

I have to agree with Mark. While this is a work of art, buying an electric car which can only go 100 miles (which is not the case of the HYBRID volvo shown here, incidentally) is simply foolish when compared with the Tesla Model S, or their upcoming crossover Model X, which can go 300 miles on a charge. By 2015 Tesla owners will be able to travel nearly anywhere in the U.S. without any more than a 20 minute delay every 300 miles.


I'd like to investigate this specific shape for use as a three port tent. Anybody know where I could find instructions?


Very beautiful indeed, though unfortunately it mostly misses the point. Too few solar cells for the area available, too erratically adjusted.

Why can't designers just look up the energy requirements of a given car, and then calculate how much active area we need for a reasonable charge? Being both a designer and an electric car owner I certainly know the conflict they're in, and still I believe it does us no good to constantly output design 'solutions' that look good but do not deliver. It will finally undermine our credibility (if if hasn't done so already).

For my EV car (which is much smaller than the Volvo) I can easily do the math and I'd need at least 20 square meters of active PV area to get a top-up on my batteries that would possibly justify the effort.

That is to say: If I'd build myself a compact box shaped EV that has a roof area of say 2,8 by 1,75m, I'd still need to quadruple that 'solar footprint' by E.G. a folding system, and adjust it properly towards the sun. If I find a sunny place to set it up, that is. Else, make it 40 square meters. Not so beautiful any more, isn't it? Think of all the energy required to produce a PV system as large as this, only to drive it around in the trunk most of the time!

A fully functional network of charging stations is sure the mainstream way to go. Those of us who can afford to put solar panels on their house or garage may do so, and feed the power generated to the grid. Electric mobility is not a one man show.

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