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Solar powered Wi-Fi? Solis Energy says 'why not?'

Orlando has tons of sun, but not as much copper wiring. So one company is taking wireless routers solar. Photos: Solar powered streetlights, Wi-Fi routers

Someday, you might hook into the Internet through solar power.

Orlando, Fla.-based Solis Energy has created a portable, uninterrupted power supply for Wi-Fi routers that harvest their energy from the sun, according to Robert Reynolds, CEO of the company.

Similar systems from Solis can be carted out after a hurricane or other disaster to restore communications lines. The company is now pitching those products for municipal Wi-Fi projects. It also sells a product to run streetlights on solar power.

Several state governments are pushing for increased use of solar energy to cut power consumption and curb greenhouse gases. But green routers have another advantage. Routers, sensors, road signs and other devices that derive their power from the sun or the wind don't need to be hooked up to wires, which often don't exist in remote locations.

As a result, running the routers on solar power in many instances isn't more costly than running them on regular grid electricity. In most situations, solar power is more expensive than grid electricity because most places where panels are installed--houses, for instance, already have electrical hookups.

"We don't publicly share our pricing, but it is significantly less than having an electrician come out," said Reynolds. "Ours is a capital expense comparison."

The Solis system essentially consists of a solar panel and a bunch of batteries contained in a specially designed enclosure. The panel generates electricity from the light of the sun and directs the electrons to the batteries, which then power the router.

Since solar energy can't be harvested all the time, the panel is actually far larger than would be necessary to simply power the router. In Florida, which gets about 4.5 hours of peak solar energy a day, Solis installs a 220-watt solar panel that measures about 4 feet by 5 feet. Ordinarily, a router only needs about 24 watts of power, he said. All that extra power goes to recharging the batteries, which run all night.

The batteries in the system let the routers survive cloudy periods and can actually keep the router going for seven days without a recharge, Reynolds said.

Solis' enclosure is designed to protect the batteries from the elements, but also to make installation easier. The company sells the devices to integrators, who then install them.