PINEY FLATS — With energy issues regularly topping the news, one local company is in the thick of efforts to decrease reliance on traditional electrical sources in, of all areas, battery chargers.
Already known for “intelligent” charging systems that use AC power more efficiently, Diversified Power International is now producing a solar-powered charger for automatic gate openers.
And while company Vice President and Engineering Manager Tony Trigiani is pleased that Tractor Supply Co., Home Depot and others will probably demand about 100,000 of the units annually, he is more excited about future solar applications in the battery charging business.
“There’s been a steady decline in the cost of solar technology and now they’re achieving pricing points that allow consumers to purchase products of this nature,” said Trigiani, who sees an opportunity to help consumers place less stress on the traditional power grid while operating everything from backup sump pump systems to cars.
“The electric vehicle market has always interested me,” Trigiani said. “The passenger compartment typically has a cover over the top that totals one square meter of space if not more.”
The sun creates about 3,000 watts of power per square meter, Trigiani said, but only about one-fifth of that is converted to usable electricity by current technology.
DPI is jumping in on the front end of efforts to power up batteries with this clean energy source. Trigiani and colleagues began working on the charger in June 2006, successfully field-tested in October 2007, and are producing units now.
The development of the solar charger offers a classic example of DPI’s business strategy.
“We don’t necessarily wait for the market to emerge,” Trigiani said. “We try to identify key markets to get involved with and then go forward with products we feel are applicable.”
Trigiani said a key to creating a successful solar charger involved overcoming the relatively low intensity of solar power.
“We’re looking at an energy source that comes and goes away very slowly, and that slow rise and slow decrease tends to cause problems with electronic operation.”
DPI is used to creating chargers that waste as little power as possible, and in the case of the solar charger, that required electrical circuitry that didn’t consume that solar power but delivered it efficiently to the battery.
Trigiani expects a rapid increase in the solar power learning curve and hopes to see DPI squarely in the middle of such activity.
“We’ve begun patent applications on this technology, and we plan to beef it up to handle higher power requirements, so we’re looking at other solar-powered input options as well,” he said.
“This could be applied to anything that operates away from and out of reach of conventional power outlets.”
In the case of the automatic gates, most users are also backing the system up with traditional AC power, although that typically requires 1,000 or more feet of expensive copper wire connecting a home and the charging site.
While the increased business these new applications bring helps drive DPI forward, Trigiani’s deeper interests lie in the future of how Americans will use technology to decrease their reliance on polluting sources such as fossil fuels.
That has driven DPI for its decade in business to plug the “leaks” between the business end of its chargers and the receiving end of batteries, and also to design units that charge batteries to 100 percent, not just 60 percent or 70 percent. And it’s what has Trigiani and DPI President Jerry Fagan keen on marrying solar power and battery charging in the future.
“With the emergence of better, higher-efficiency solar panels it’s going to make electric vehicles, especially those that can be operated within a closed neighborhood, more viable,” Trigiani said.
“That and a lot of other uses may help alleviate dependency on the traditional electrical grid.”