Sep 092013

To some extent, solar power has long had a gimmicky side — look no further than this solar-powered “dancing flower” or the Nivea skincare ad that includes a solar panel to charge your phone.

But at the same time, these unbelievably broad applications of solar as a technology, as a power source, are also key to its success. You can use a solar panel to power just about anything these days. As Zachary Shahan at CleanTechnica wrote about that Nivea ad: it means that “solar is becoming mainstream.”

In the last few days, I’ve come across a good number of examples of just how mainstream solar is becoming, as solar-powered doo-dads of many kinds hit the newswires. In no particular order:

•  Solar Clothes Dryer: Today, German appliance manufacturer Miele unveiled its T881 EcoComfort clothes dryer, which connects to a home’s central heating system and then to a rooftop solar installation to dry clothes with clean energy. The system is pictured below, and according to Inhabitat, this dryer-to-rooftop solar setup gives the machine an “A+++ energy efficiency rating, which is up to 80 percent more efficient than competing clothes dryers.”

solar clothes dryer schematic

Schematic for Miele’s solar-powered clothes dryer

•  Solar laptop: Last month, Solaptop unveiled the specs on what it’s calling an “all-terrain off-road sport utility laptop” — a $400, solar-powered, Linux-based and waterproof computer.

solar laptop

Solaptop’s solar-powered, rugged laptop

•  Solar travel by air and sea: When the Solar Impulse landed its cross-country flight from San Francisco to New York last month, it marked a pretty momentous achievement for solar flight, and drew comparisons to Elon Musk’s achievement with Tesla (though the Solar Impulse was not, as IEEE’s Spectrum reminds us, the first cross-U.S. solar-powered plane flight). The Guardian offers a broad look at solar-powered travel, from Solar Impulse to the solar-powered motorboat the MS Tûranor PlanetSolar, which circumnavigated the world between September 2010 and May 2012 (20 months to travel around the world is fairly equivalent in speed to the Solar Impulse’s 24-hour trip time between Washington, D.C., and New York City).

• Solar drones: While the rest of the world was talking about the miraculous XXX-hour flight of the solar-powered airplane mentioned in the article above, The Economist was putting together this look at solar-powered drones, unmanned aircraft powered by solar cells that could be used to “survey pipelines and power cables, perform aerial filming for anyone from television news stations to estate agents, monitor fires, assist in search-and-rescue operations” and more.

• Not-exactly-solar bikes: The two products that got me thinking about this post were electric bikes, namely something called “The Beast, which is a bamboo-framed, electric-powered mountain bike, and the NTS 2×4 electric Cargo Bike (pictured below). Granted, these are not solar-powered, but as electric vehicles, it’s just the easiest thing in the world to plug them in to your solar-powered home and create a zero-carbon mode of transport (which doesn’t really answer for me the question of why you really need an electric bike anyway, but then I live in a pretty flat place…).

electric cargo bike

NTS’s 2×4 electric Cargo Bike

With all these applications of solar tech already on the market, I can’t wait to see what my next “Solar Everywhere” roundup will bring.

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