NSF-funded Research Project Uses Solar Power to Extend Broadband Internet Access into Remote Areas

Researchers at the University of California - San Diego recently developed a way to power their broadband High-Performance Wireless Research and Education Network (HPWREN) in remote areas of southern California where traditional electricity is not available. That is, the HPWREN team has designed and established solar-powered stations that allow their broadband microwave antennas to reach some of the most rural lands in San Diego County. Thanks to this natural form of electricity, several Native American learning centers now have access to the high-speed information highway. How exactly do the HPWREN solar-powered stations work?

Each system consists of four 80-watt solar panels, which measure approximately 57 by 20 by 2; four independent 94-AH gel cell batteries; a charge controller; and a DC-DC converter. The overall system is capable of generating a peak power of 320 watts, which is able to continuously power a device consuming around 32 watts.

HPWREN solar system

This solar-powered system, which can support up to four 2.4 GHz radios, has five days of back-up power should the panels fail.

"The solar panels are connected to a charge controller that disconnects the panels when there is not enough electromotive force to charge the batteries. During that time the radios and amplifiers receive their power solely from the batteries," explains Todd Hansen, who designed the HPWREN solar-powered stations.

"Once the sun is up, the panels (at times) begin to charge the batteries in an excess of 20 amps," Hansen continues. "Most of this power goes into the batteries, however, a small amount of power is taken to power the radios and amplifiers. At this point, the panels are powering the radios and recharging the batteries from the drain of the night before."

HPWREN solar system

Though last year's icy snow pounded the HPWREN solar system located in the San Diego County mountains near the La Jolla Native American reservation, the power stayed intact.

For more information about the HPWREN solar-powered stations, please refer to http://hpwren.ucsd.edu/solar.html. General project information is located at http://hpwren.ucsd.edu.

The HPWREN project is based on work sponsored by the National Science Foundation and its ANIR division under Grant Number ANI-0087344.


Updated Fall 2002

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