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Four Innovative Uses of Solar Power

Jul 08, 2016

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Image courtesy of www.solarroadways.com

SolarShare focuses on the development of large-scale solar photo-voltaic (PV) installations – harnessing the sun’s energy to produce electricity which is fed into the grid. However, the means in which solar power can be deployed extend well beyond PV systems. Let’s look at some of the other uses of solar power, beyond traditional rooftop and ground-mount PV systems, from the radical to the simplistic.

Solar Roadway Pilot Project

A rest stop along Route 66 in Missouri will soon be the site of a new solar roadway pilot project, which seeks to pave the sidewalk, and eventually the parking lot (and maybe even sections of the road), with specially designed solar PV panels. The panels will generate electricity and come with built-in LED lights for markings and signage. One of the companies responsible for the project, Solar Roadways, envisions their solar panels eventually paving residential roads, highways, and even airport runways. If successful, the pilot project in Missouri could cause governments and businesses to look more seriously at the viability of solar roadways in infrastructure development.

Solar Glass

Ubiquitous Energy, a Silicon Valley tech company originally based out of MIT, is developing transparent solar panels, which effectively look like panes of glass. The panels capture infrared and ultraviolet light – light that isn’t visible to the human eye – and convert it to electricity, without blocking visible light from passing through. The technology is currently planned for use in mobile devices and electronic signs, but could, in principle, be used for architectural projects. While it will take some time before transparent solar panels make it to market, the very concept shows the versatility of solar energy technology.

Solar Heating

While the two uses of solar energy mentioned above are technologically complex and innovative, the next is exceptionally simplistic. Solar energy has been used for water heating since the 19th century. Today, solar water heating systems are often used to warm swimming pools, and can also be used for household heating. In fact, the US Department of Energy refers to solar pool heating as “the most cost-effective use of solar energy in many climates”, noting that the upfront costs of solar for pool heating are competitive with gas, but with much lower long-term operational costs.

Solar Cooking

Like solar water heating systems, solar ovens demonstrate the capacity for simplicity in the design of solar technology. Moreover, solar ovens also demonstrate the power of solar to make positive differences in the social world. Contemporary solar ovens can achieve temperatures approaching 300°C and are ideal for deployment in parts of the world with scarce fuel supplies. Since solar ovens require no fuel (just the sun!), they can reduce the cost and time required for cooking in rural communities in the developing world, and thus, play a role in poverty alleviation.