Last month, we published our first installment of Solar Everywhere, wherein we looked at several interesting and unlikely applications for solar panels. Since then, we’ve kept a weather eye on the news for other odd appearances of solar power.
And oh the news did not disappoint. Read on for a glimpse at the far-flung places that solar is going.
• Solar iPhones: This is not particularly surprising, but it is pretty cool: Treehugger points us to the Enerplex Surfr iPhone case, which integrates a thin-film solar panel into the back of the phone, recharging your battery or keeping it going while you’re talking or playing Bejeweled or whatever it is you people do with your phones these days. At $70, it’s expensive even for an Apple accessory, but it’s pretty cool nonetheless.
The timing on this may be good, since CleanTechnica points us to a recent job posting from Apple that’s looking for solar-experienced engineers — a possible hint that the company is aiming to put thin-film solar on its products in the near future.
• Solar from space: Speaking of the future, what’s more futuristic than this idea from Japanese scientists to harvest solar power from space? The idea is to put solar panels up in geostationary orbit over the country, and transmit the generated electricity down to Japan. It’s far-out, and is probably a long ways from reality, but sending solar panels into space is a great idea, since you’re not hampered by weather or night or anything tricky like that — just 22,236 miles of space and atmosphere…
• Solar desalination: With global warming promising to make wet areas wetter and dry areas drier, there’s no doubt that those of us living in soon-to-be drought-plagued regions are thinking about where our water will come from. Desalination, while currently expensive and technically complicated, is a technology that will hold a prominent place in the near future. And members of the Navajo Nation in Arizona are building a solar powered desalination plant to provide clean drinking water to tribe members — who currently have to drive hundreds of miles to buy drinking water in bulk.
• Solar sterilization: In other promising quality-of-life news, a team of researchers at Rice University have created a solar-powered autoclave that can be used to sterilize medical and dental equipment in the developing world, helping medical professionals provide safer care to people without electricity. The team has created two types of machines, both of which use sunpower to boil water quickly, and can then sterilize equipment or human waste, and can also be used for purifying water.
• Solar lamp post: In hindsight, this seems genius: Norwegian design firm Kaal Masten has created Spirit, a solar lamp post, storing the sun’s energy during the day and releasing it as light in the night. The post is covered with panels and filled with batteries — all of which are recyclable, the group says — and because they don’t need to be connected to the grid, the Spirit light can provide illumination to areas and people that don’t currently have electricity.
• Solar-powered transit — buses, planes and tuk tuks!: We’ve all heard about the Solar Impulse, the solar powered airplane that recently completed a cross-country trip (in two months). Last month, Google joined the team as a technology / promotional partner, bringing news about solar-powered flight to the far corners of the world.
On the Down Under front, we’ve got two items from Australia. First of all, the city of Adelaide has just turned the keys on the world’s first solar-powered bus. Designed by a New Zealand firm, the Tindo bus is part of Adelaide’s free Connector Bus service. It can carry 40 passengers at a time and travel about 125 miles per charge — it uses a BP Solar charging station at the bus station to recharge.
Secondly, the Australian firm Star 8 Solar has developed a solar-powered tuk tuk, the open-air taxis that are used around the globe. Diesel-powered tuk tuks are also major sources of air pollution, leading to restrictions on their use and even bans. Star 8 is putting the final touches on solar-powered tuk tuks that include two batteries, so one can charge while the driver is using the other, and a range of solar panel system sizes and engine capacities.
• Solar sidewalk: I was going to be all snarky and put this in the solar-powered transit section, but this is cool enough to be put in its own section. George Washington University has just unveiled an energy-generating sidewalk that uses solar panels underfoot to create electricity. The sidewalk is more art installation / educational opportunity than a utility’s new best friend — it’s just 100 feet long and can generate 400 watts at full capacity, enough to power the LED lights that sit underneath the panels.
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