Here we meet the people and places that take solar power one step further. These inventions showcase when solar goes genius.
1. The tiny house movement.
Tiny living is a social movement involving the downsizing of living spaces to all shapes, sizes and a focus on simplified living. But Laura LaVoie, author of 120 Ideas for Tiny Living, and her partner Matt went one step further with their tiny house in North Carolina, USA. With a solar system that costs about US$2,000, they’ve managed to take their tiny house off the grid, so their energy bill is $0 per month. Super savings.
It’s hard when your mobile phone is running out of juice and you can’t charge it and you need to make a call. In developing countries, this is also a problem where 80% of the population have a mobile phone, but only 5% have access to power. This is where BuffaloGrid comes to the rescue, providing solar-powered mobile phone charging hubs to communities in developing countries. A BuffaloGrid station charges 24 phones at a time using solar energy. Charging takes the same time as it would in a wall socket. And as of 2014, there were five machines set up in Uganda. Now, you can really go mobile.
3. White solar panels.
So, how can you cool a building and reduce the energy demand while still producing energy? That was the quandary Swiss company CSEM faced, so they developed a new type of solar panel. It works by reflecting visible light while allowing infrared rays to penetrate the panel. Smart thinking.
4. Solar highways.
Driving along the highway with the wind in your hair and the sun on your back… It’s a road tripper’s dream, but in the US state of Oregon, they took the sun reference to a whole new level. They have solar highways – 594 flexible photovoltaic panels that line the highway, harvesting solar energy. By doing so, they offset over one-third of the energy needed for freeway illumination.
5. Sun research complex.
Like something out of James Bond, this huge solar parabola (or solar furnace) is part of Uzbekistan’s sun research complex. According to its website, the complex carries out comprehensive studies in solar technology for tasks that need “powerful light fluxes of different spectral composition”. The pictured parabola (one of only two in the world – the other is in France and opened in 1970) reflects energy from the sun and focuses it into a light beam that blasts out at up to 3000 degrees Celisus – hot enough to melt metal. In part, this is used for testing for radiation resistance of new technology nodes, among many more tasks.