7 unique ways solar is utilised

| 28th August 2018
Solar technology is not only changing the way we utilise energy, but some of the new innovations are also making us consider different methods to harvest solar energy. EMILY FOLK reports

Solar technology is already transforming our world, but it is continuing to do so in a variety of new and innovative ways. We’ll likely see many more solar inventions in the years to come.

Solar modules that produce electricity for use on the electric grid or to power individual homes and commercial buildings are impressive enough.

Solar panels are much more efficient than they used to be. And since 2010, the cost of solar photovoltaic panels has decreased by more than 60 percent, putting the technology in reach of millions of Americans. The United States now has enough solar capacity installed to power 5.7 million average US homes. 

But rooftop solar modules and utility-scale solar plants are not the only way that people are using solar technology. Here are seven innovative ways in which solar is being utilised today.

1. Trash and Recycling

Cities around the United States have started rolling out trash cans and recycling bins outfitted with solar-powered compactors. These devices use the power of the sun to compress their contents.

By compacting the trash people throw in them, these cans substantially increase their capacity, reducing their need to be emptied by up to 80 percent. This means cost savings on labor and transporting the trash. Because collection trucks don’t have to operate as often, these compactors also lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

These devices can even be equipped with smart sensors that send alerts when it’s time to empty them and provide insights that can help with optimising trash can placement.

2. Emergency Medicine

Solar devices are also playing a role in emergency medicine. Solar technology can provide power to medical personnel even in remote locations or in the wake of natural disasters when other sources of electricity are not available.

The We Care Solar Suitcase, for example, includes small solar panels that provide energy that health and emergency workers can use to power medical lighting, communications, laptops and small medical devices.

Shipping containers with solar panels affixed to their roofs can also serve as clinics during emergency and restoration situations. These solar-powered “tiny clinics” can be sent to disaster locations where medical personnel can use them to provide emergency care.

3. Vehicles

You can power electric cars with solar energy from rooftop solar panels or the grid. You can also increasingly find parking garages, small shelters and other structures outfitted with solar panels to charge the cars that park in or under them.

Increasingly, people are also using solar to power vehicles directly.

The first entirely solar-powered cars are scheduled for release in 2019. The Lightyear One, as it’s called, reportedly can drive up to nearly 500 miles without needing a charge.

Solar technology is becoming an increasingly realistic way to power a boat, with more and more boaters powering their vessels with the sun. In 2016, the Solar Impulse 2 became the first solar-powered plane to make a trip around the globe.

4. Clothing

While not quite a mainstream trend yet, solar clothing is started to cause a stir in the fashion industry. Numerous designers have created fashion items, from t-shirts to jackets to backpacks to jewelry, which incorporate solar technology. One t-shirt designed by Dutch designer Pauline van Dongen can reportedly generate up to one watt of electricity.

Jayan Thomas, a researcher at the NanoScience Technology Center at the University of Central Florida, recently created a nanofiber filament that you can weave into clothing. The copper material has small solar panels and a technology for storing energy on the other.

5. Device Chargers

You can buy solar-powered chargers for your mobile devices. Many of these chargers are portable, enabling you to charge your phone on the go and making them popular with outdoors enthusiasts.

One of the most popular solar chargers, the X-Dragon, has four small 1.2-watt panels and can fold up for transportation. Another device, the XDModo solar charger, can stick to your window to help it get as much light as possible. If you want a larger model, you can opt for the Fuse 6W Solar Charger, which has clips that allow you to attach to a backpack.

6. Ski Lifts

A tiny town in Switzerland called Tenna uses solar panels to power a ski lift that can transport up to 800 skiers an hour up the mountain. The system includes about 80 solar panels that tilt to follow the sun and automatically shake snow off of them.

The lift is also connected to the power grid in case it doesn't get enough sunlight. On sunny days, it produces twice as much energy as needs and sends the rest back into the grid to power the rest of the town. During the offseason, it will provide all of its energy to the grid.

7. Paint

In the future, we might be able to use paint to collect energy from the sun to power our homes.

Researchers at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology are developing a solar paint which absorbs solar energy and moisture from the air and then splits the water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen can then power a fuel cell. This paint could potentially turn any object into a source of energy.

Solar technology is already transforming our world, but it is continuing to do so in a variety of new and innovative ways. We’ll likely see many more solar inventions in the years to come.

This Author

Emily Folk is a conservation and sustainability writer and the editor of Conservation Folks.

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