One of the coolest things about solar energy is the versatility it offers. Power in the middle of nowhere was once impossible without a generator. But now, thanks to technology that harnesses the sun’s rays, literally any structure you could think of can get power, regardless of where it is.
In a country covered in farmland, deep bush and beaches, we’re well positioned to use solar energy in many different ways. Consider structures like the humble DOC hut – solar power can help bring electricity to places that have no other way of getting it.
It’s not just buildings that benefit from solar power – vehicles both on land and in the air are utilising the sun’s energy to achieve some unbelievable feats.
Let’s take a look at some inspiring solar projects from around (and above) the globe to bring power to the most unexpected of places:
International Space Station
Yeah, this is pretty remote. It’s about as off the grid as you can get. But with the many important projects happening on the International Space Station, there’s a need for considerable power – 70 to 90 kilowatts in fact. But how do you get electricity in orbit? Turns out floating 350 km above earth gets you pretty good sunlight. That’s why the ISS uses solar energy for power, collected by large, long solar panels. These panels’ surface area is close to an acre, and provide 80 to 120 KW of power at any given time. On earth, that’s enough to power 40 homes.
Read more about the ISS here.
The Sol Cinema is described as a ‘mobile cinema in a vintage caravan, powered entirely by solar energy’. Based in South Wales, the Sol Cinema crew travel around the UK and Europe, offering a truly unique cinematic experience. Built to accommodate around 8 people, movie fans can watch short films in the caravan, and enjoy the red carpet and movie ushers too. Using solar energy, they are able to travel anywhere in the world.
It’s pretty impressive to see just how creative humans have become in the harnessing of natural renewable energy. What movie would you like to watch in a solar-powered movie theatre?
Solar learning labs
Computer Aid was founded in 1997 to bring equal access to technology, with initiatives that reach into Africa and South America. Computer Aid are on a mission to bring computers and technology to all people, focusing efforts in the developing world.
Part of Computer Aid’s activities include what they call the ‘Solar Learning Lab’ – a portable structure that contains multiple computers to teach developing nations skills in information communications and technology. These portable ‘labs’ are 100% solar powered, allowing the team to bring technology anywhere they can. Their hope is to grow digital learning and build computer competencies in markets with a skills shortage, empowering individuals to become employed.
These kinds of projects remind us how valuable power can be to humans. By thinking outside of the box, developing countries don’t have to be left behind modern technology and education. Usable solar energy is almost everywhere, including remote places – this makes it a great option to reach and empower more people.
Source: Computer Aid
Read more about the Solar Learning Labs here.
Solar Ski Lift
Source: New Atlas
For those snow enthusiasts reading – you can now get up the mountain thanks to sunlight. The only thing is, you’ll need to make your way to Switzerland to do so! The small ski town of Tenna is home to the first known solar powered ski lift. The lift is claimed to be capable of moving 800 skiers an hour up the mountain. These panels swivel in motion, shaking off any snowfall that covers the photovoltaic cells.
Power outages do happen on ski fields the world over, which isn’t fun – just ask any skier or snowboarder who’s been stuck on a chairlift. Solar power doesn’t rely on the grid, so we’ll be interested to see if this approach is adopted in other ski fields across the globe.
At full capacity, the solar panels produce double what’s required to operate the lift, sending excess energy back into the grid.
NZ’s solar powered huts
Here’s something pretty special in our own backyard – these PurePods are luxurious retreats nestled deep in beautiful New Zealand landscapes in the South Island. Guests can choose from a range of different locations, each with sublime views. Described as ‘sustainable luxury’, PurePods run off solar energy and have the advantage over glamping with full uninterrupted 360 degree panoramas.
These pods are designed to allow guests to completely disconnect from the world, while using solar energy to maintain some creature comforts. In an increasingly digital life, we think everyone should take time out and enjoy what New Zealand nature has to offer.
Check out PurePods here.
Source: Solar Impulse
How’s this for clean air travel? The Solar Impulse 2 is a manned aircraft completely powered by solar energy. In 2016 it successfully flew around the world in 17 separate legs. Founders of the Solar Impulse project Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg flew more than 40,000km around the world to promote renewable energy. If there was ever a case for the power of solar energy, this would be it.
With projects like Solar Impulse, we are reminded of the enormous energy potential of the sun. As electric vehicles grow in popularity, perhaps we’ll see solar feature more prominently at scale.
Now, would you be willing to go on a flight powered by solar – with no fuel?
Read more about the amazing work done by the Solar Impulse Foundation.
Future of solar
With costs reducing and technology improving, we’ll see more cases of solar power in remote and unexpected applications. The sun is perhaps our largest untapped energy source – now it’s down to humans to work out how to harness it effectively.
What about your next project – how could you use sunlight to bring electricity to places it previously couldn’t reach?
Here are some other interesting articles about interesting uses for solar energy:
- 10 Solar Power Uses That Will Surprise You – Lifehack.org
- Solar Power Does What? 4 Unusual Uses of Photovoltaic Technology – Energy.gov
- Solar Energy Pops Up in Unexpected Places – National Geographic