Eco-friendly and infinite, solar power has long been the ‘good guy’ of the energy industry. Although still not as popular as its carbon and oil counterparts, technological innovations in solar power have, in the past few years, aimed to revolutionise the way we live in the 21st century. If you’ve perhaps been lazing too long in the glow of this prized energy source and have missed out on the latest developments, here are a three emerging solar power-fuelled trends.
The thin, dark blue, grid-like solar panels seen atop some rooftops have become a normal fixture in many residential areas, and are a true long-term investment for homeowners. At an average price of $10,000 for initial installation costs, however, solar power remains an expensive option for many. Though initial installation costs may be recovered years down the line, conventional monthly bill-paying still retains considerable allure.
SolarCity is one of the few tech companies that chooses to buy not sell solar panels, a rarity in the solar panel industry, and therein lies the key to its success. Although SolarCity installs solar panels, it’s not a conventional installation company: it offers solar panels to homeowners for free and then sells them electricity at prices lower than their current utility contracts. The scheme has proved exceedingly popular; the company works across 14 US states, guarantees its energy supply for 20 years, and sells electricity back to homeowners at a rate that is 10 to 15 percent less than their current utility bills. Even in states like Arizona where there’s relatively low electricity rates (approx. 13 cents per kilowatt hour), plentiful sunlight means SolarCity’s offer is still competitive.
Previously, homeowners were faced with the choice of expensive, clean energy on one hand; and cheaper ‘dirty’ energy on the other. Lyndon Rive, co-founder and CEO of SolarCity poses a new question: ‘given the option of paying more for dirty power, or paying less for clean power, what would you take?’
Solar-powered laptop chargers have certainly gained popularity over recent years, but a fully solar-powered laptop is still a novel idea. In 2011, Samsung showcased the world’s first solar-powered PC. Unveiled at the Africa Regional Forum, the Samsung NC215S had solar panels built into the laptop lid allowing for up to 14.5 hours of uninterrupted battery life – perhaps the most attractive feature of the model. With such long battery power, laptop users could work for longer without the hassle of recharging every few hours. The machine’s solar technology received awards from prestigious environmental ratings agencies like EPEAT® and TCO, and although the NC215S is currently exclusively available to the Russian market, it has paved the way for the design of future solar-powered mobile devices like phones and notepads.
Solar Impulse and the Solar-Powered Aircraft
Solar Impulse is a Swiss solar-powered aviation project that took off with its first flight in 2009 and has been flying high in the world of aeronautical design ever since. Surprisingly, solar-powered aircraft design has been around since the 1970s, but Solar Impulse is the first piloted solar airplane to be capable of flying during the day and night (using stored reserve power during periods of limited, or no sunlight) with absolutely no fuel.
Sleek and lightweight, the current HB-SIA model has solar panels mounted across most of the 20- foot wingspan and can provide enough energy for a twenty-six hour flight (the longest Solar Impulse has recorded). By the end of March 2013, the solar-powered wonder aims to have toured America in just four stops. The group has ambitions to perform a round the world trip by 2015.
But Solar Impulse is not just about travel showmanship. As Dr Bertrand Piccard, one of the main pioneers of Solar Impulse states: ‘our airplane is not designed to carry passengers, but to carry a message’. That message being, of course, that we can harness the power of our natural resources with minimal damage to the environment. Solar-powered aviation could be one of the most significant ways we could reduce the colossal collective carbon footprint of the millions of us who travel by air.
The solar power revolution is well under way and has huge ramifications on how we live, travel, and communicate with each other – all this must be achieved while keeping our ethics intact and our utility bills low.