How history leads the way with these inspiring solar inventions

Inspiration from the past has always been the way to move forward. This is true about almost anything in history - architecture, design, society and now, solar energy.

There are many ways solar is being applied with a nod to the past and view to the 21st century. Let history lead the way…

The Smart Highways project

There’s an ongoing love affair with the car; getting away for a weekend, driving off into the sunset. But since the 1980s, when it came to highway innovation technologies, all the focus has been on the vehicle, such as making the car more fuel-efficient and the development of hybrid vehicles.

With infrastructure by Heijmans and artistic design by Studio Roosegaarde, the two powerhouses shifted their focus to be on the road rather than the car – and so, the Smart Highways project was born.

‘Glow-in-the-dark Lines’, which are now used in the Netherlands, are part of this project. Future concepts, which are yet to be approved, include ‘Dynamic Paint’, ‘Interactive Light’ and an ‘Electric Car Priority Lane’. These innovations will make the road sustainable and interactive through means of smart lighting.

By harvesting energy from solar, dynamic paint can light up the roads for up to 10 hours. This project also includes traffic signs that adapt to weather and road situations, such as when the road is icy, images of snowflakes in the dynamic paint appear on the surface of the road to keep drivers safe.

This also influenced Studio Roosegaarde to create a sustainable bike path with a cultural connection, known as the Van Gogh bicycle path.

Open since November 2014, this solar innovation in the Netherlands honours the years Vincent Van Gogh spent in the country. The twinkly, solar-powered bike path illuminates the road ahead in a reflection of the famous The Starry Night masterpiece.

This kilometre-long path forms part of the Van Gogh cycle route through the Dutch province of Noord Brabant, where the artist was born and raised.

A nearby solar panel is used to light up the path, and the surface is coated with a special paint that harnesses the energy during the day to give its ethereal glow at night.

The power of homes

It’s not just where you go, but also where you live, like this floating solar-powered Econest home.

Here, living with the bare necessities of nature is the inspiration – in fact, going back to the primitive basics, this WaterNest 100 is designed for those who wish to “live independently, exclusively and in complete harmony with nature”.

The nest is regulated for the perfect temperatures, weather-safe and constructed to blend into the surroundings. This eco-friendly floating structure is designed by Italian architect, Giancarlo Zema for EcoFloLife.

It’s made entirely out of recycled glued laminated timber with a recycled aluminium hull, and can be positioned along rivers, bays and areas with calm sea waters. The use of recycled materials and sustainable production systems means this unit is up to 98% recyclable.

It’s powered by 60-square metres of amorphous solar panels able to generate 4kW of power at peak radiation. These panels differ from the traditional PV panels due to the low energy requirement for their production.