Summer is a big, prosperous time for seaside cities, but all that sudden activity and tourism can be a drain on resources. The pace and demands of summer put pressure on a city’s energy grid, which can cause rolling blackouts and worsen air quality. Coastal Italians are intimately familiar with this struggle, and this year’s record-breaking heat in Europe has only made the problem feel more urgent. Thankfully, resourceful designers and engineers are coming up with exciting solutions, like the solar-powered beach umbrella Parelio.
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This clever lawn accessory by CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati and the Italian dessert company Sammontana converts leisurely outdoor scenes into sustainable energy. It uses foldable, photovoltaic panels to collect sunlight that can then be used for a variety of purposes, including cooling the immediate environment, refrigerating refreshments, charging phones, and powering machinery. Parelio’s attached coolers, sprayers, and refrigeration capabilities make it perfect for providing comfortable seating at restaurants, cafes, or park events.
The design resulted from a collaboration between architect Italo Rota and inventor Chuck Hoberman, who specializes in building retractable structures. Together, they created a modern, multi-talented take on the beach umbrella with a charismatic look that takes inspiration from origami. Parelio’s subversive design turns the classic umbrella quite literally on its head, folding upward toward the sky so its photovoltaic layer can absorb as much sunlight as possible. Despite its immediate visual contrast with typical beach accessories, Parelio’s top is still flat enough to provide plenty of shade.
While one umbrella is powerful on its own, a network of Parelios packs an even bigger punch. The product’s modular system design allows multiple umbrellas to pool electricity that can provide power for an impressive variety of structures, from ice cream refrigerators to an entire resort. This means increased traffic at bar patios, restaurants, and hotels doesn’t have to translate into huge electricity bills, and the accumulated power can even provide a boost of energy during busy nights or off seasons.
Parelio’s benefits have already been measured in the design’s home of Milan, where the team conducted a successful eight-week prototype test last summer. Sustainable nonprofit The Riccardo Catella Foundation helped them install a free public lounge of several umbrellas in BAM Park-Tree Library that provided relief to locals and visitors while simulating the outcomes of single and aggregated setups.
This is just one great example of how the device could immediately benefit not just small businesses, but entire cities. Parelio’s high wattage talents are coupled with flexibility, scalability, and simple installation that would make it easy to adopt in small or large environments. The clever design is especially noteworthy for providing an eco-friendly alternative to increasingly hot summers, and proves that a luxurious vacation scene can be environmentally sustainable.