Solar power in the city

Sustainable cities and their surrounds are increasingly taking up solar in innovative ways.

From lights to windows to bins, we round up some of the most exciting urban innovations.

Turning windows into solar panels

Transparent solar windows are an emerging technology that could mean a revolution in the way we power our cities. Just imagine the power a skyscraper could produce.

The technology behind solar windows varies, but in simple terms, tiny solar panels can be embedded in glass in order to create a solar window.

Oxford University is one academic institution to carry out research in the field. Off-shoot commercial company, Oxford Photovoltaics, has developed lab prototypes using the chemical structure perovskite, which have high energy conversion efficiency at over 16%

However, the challenge in the past has been to make this kind of window fully transparent. A team of researchers based at the Michigan State University could have found the answer to that problem by creating a transparent solar concentrator (a device for concentrating non-ionising solar radiation to produce electricity). This means it’s only a matter of time before you’re scanning the skyline through a power-generating pane.

Reducing waste with solar bins

Canada Bay in inner-west Sydney has recently adopted six solar-powered Bigbelly bins: rubbish compactors that hold six to eight times more rubbish than the average street bin. The regular-sized, unassuming bins can also be found in cities such as New York and Amsterdam.

What’s even better about these bins is that they’re fully powered by solar energy.

Their solar-powered compacting action can reduce the number of rubbish collections by 86 per cent. What’s more, once the bins are 85% full and need to be emptied, wireless monitoring technology sends an email to collectors.

Each bin has separate, monitored compartments for recyclables and non-recyclables. Making them solar, compact and smart.

Marrying style with solar

The street lamps of Paris are as iconic as they are stylish, and they now have the option to be energy efficient too. Last year, French designer Mathieu Lehanneur designed ‘Clover’ – a combination street lamp, bench and series of stools.

Lehanneur expressed his desire to marry the history of materials, shapes and solutions – often found in the variation of street lamps within the city – with the needs of today.

His solution is a street lamp with a wooden base and stylised solar panels, used to generate the lamp’s light. The ‘Clover’ series is situated outside the Ministry of Ecology building, and was installed as climate talks began in Paris.

Raising the (solar) roof

Using roofs to utilise the power of solar is a powerful way for cities to generate renewable energy.

The city of Dubai has announced a plan to install energy-efficient solar panels on every rooftop in the city by 2030. A bold and admirable move, it’s a big step towards the city’s goal of having the smallest carbon footprint globally by 2050.

In Australia, the City Of Melbourne Rooftop Project was launched to identify the potential for utilising roof space in order to generate solar energy. The project determined that solar panels could be installed on a staggering 6,370,000 m2 of rooftops, which is three times the size of Melbourne’s Hoddle grid.

Developments in R&D mean that cities are becoming smarter and more focused on renewable energy. With initiatives in place that encourage ongoing research into ways solar can be implemented into urban life, solar solutions in the city are fast becoming the way forward.