Solar energy is the most abundant energy source in the world. In fact, 173,000 terawatts of solar energy continuously hits the Earth. That’s more 10,000 times of the world’s energy usage. Since 2008, solar installations in the United States have grown seventeen-fold, from 1.2 gigawatts (GW) to an estimated 30 GW today, which is enough capacity to power the equivalent of 5.7 million average American homes. Additionally, the cost to install solar power has dropped by more than 70% over the last decade. It’s increasing competitiveness against other technologies has caused it to increase its share of total U.S. energy generation.
We’re all familiar with leveraging solar panels to provide electricity to power homes and businesses. But as solar technology becomes increasingly accessible and affordable, people are finding new innovative ways to put it to work. Applications for photovoltaic cells went from being simply highly utilitarian to a combination of utilitarian and entertaining.
Below we’ve listed some of the most unique and interesting uses for solar energy today.
1. Solar Paint
- In 2017, researchers from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) developed a paint that can be leveraged to generate renewable energy. The paint combines the titanium oxide already used in many wall paints with a new compound: synthetic molybdenum-sulfide, which absorbs solar energy and moisture from the surrounding air. It then splits the water into hydrogen and oxygen, collecting the hydrogen for use in fuel cells or to power a vehicle. Although still in its infancy and isn’t expected to be commercially viable for at least another five years, it’s believed that the product will be fairly inexpensive to produce.
- Solar-powered charging stations for electric vehicles have been around for quite some time now, and solar technology is also making its way directly into the body of some cars. The 2010 Toyota Prius, for example, featured a solar panel on its roof. The electricity generated helped power the car’s climate control system. Later this year, the first mass-produced electric car that can charge itself with integrated solar energy capacity is expected to be introduced by Sono Motors (and is named “Sion Solar Car”).
- A solar window essentially is essentially a window with built-in photovoltaic functionality, which means it can convert the sun’s rays into energy.
- While solar windows have been around for decades, a group of National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) scientists recently made a significant breakthrough in their technologies by creating their own solar windows that use thermochromism—the property of substances to change color due to a change in temperature—to transform from transparent to tinted, and convert sunlight into electricity in that tinted state. The innovation, called SwitchGlaze, could be one of the next commercial successes coming from Energy Department national laboratory research.
4. Solar-Powered Streetlights
- Solar powered streetlights are currently being used across different urban locations throughout the country.
- The batteries for solar powered streetlights are charged during the day so that the lights can shine at night (note that most solar power streetlights leverage LED lighting).
5. Solar-Powered Vaccine Refrigerators
- In developing countries, 24-hour electricity isn’t guaranteed, and although critical, keeping heat-sensitive vaccines at the correct temperature can be quite difficult. Solar refrigerators were first introduced in areas without electricity in the1980s as an alternative to kerosene and gas-driven refrigerators, both of which are plagued by issues such as gas supply interruptions, low efficiency, and inadequate temperature control.
- This technology has been saving lives since then, as companies have manufactured solar-powered vaccine refrigerators so healthcare workers in remote areas can administer medication to those who need it.
- Traditional solar refrigerators relied on expensive battery systems with short lives. Today, there are alternatives to the battery-based systems and a clear understanding that solar refrigerator systems need to be designed, installed, and maintained by technicians with the essential knowledge and training.
6. Solar-Powered Trash and Recycling Compactors
- Seen in places like New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Amsterdam, Boston, and Stockholm, these compactors compress its contents leveraging the power of the sun.
- They tend to hold about five times more than the average trash bin and are saving cities millions. By reducing litter and cutting down collections, solar-powered compactors lower operating costs, fuel consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions associated with garbage collection.
These are only some of the ways that people are leveraging the power of the sun to create electric energy. Other intriguing uses of solar technology include solar-powered boats and planes, solar-powered fountains, solar-chargers for various different electronics, and a multitude of solar-powered gadgets (like flashlights, backpacks, speakers, keyboards, etc.)
Kiwi Energy Can Help
The evolution and application of solar technology (and other types of renewable energy) will play an important role in our efforts to combat climate change.That’s why we’re proud to offer environmentally conscious energy options to New York and Ohio residents, including a solar option through our partnership with SunPower by Venture Solar. We offer different plans so you can pick one that suits your needs. Find a plan that works for you and sign up for Kiwi Energy today.