10 Creative Solar Energy Applications
Beyond Solar Panels
When you think of the term "solar energy," what comes to mind? If you are like most people, images of rooftop solar panels to generate electricity (photovoltaic solar panels) probably define "solar" for you.
But, solar cells can be used for much more than residential solar power.
Creative solar energy applications use technology to harness power from the sun for a wide variety of uses.
Think about just about any power need in your life - from communications to entertainment, to simply powering a device you use on a regular basis.
2. Solar Backpacks
Did you know that you can get a backpack (or briefcase or handbag) covered with solar cells to help keep your electronics fully charged?
For students on the go and outdoor recreation enthusiasts, a solar backpack can keep all of your electronic devices powered up when you are away from home.
Solar backpacks are embedded with solar panels and include ports in the interior for plugging in cell phones, cameras, GPS devices, mP3 players and even laptops.
1. Solar Cell Phone Chargers
Solar cell phone chargers are a convenient way to keep your mobile phone fully charged when you are away from an outlet or your vehicle. Solar cells may be embedded on the phone itself, or may be separately purchased as a charging device. You can even get a cell phone cover with solar cells to recharge the phone.
These solar gadgets are great for people that spend a lot of time outdoors - whether for sports, camping, fishing, hiking or even just picnicking. Exposure to UV light generates power that can keep a cell phone from losing battery power over time.
As of the date of this publication, it generally takes about 2 hours of exposure to sunlight to provide enough power for 30 minutes of talk time on a cell phone. Of course, using smart phone applications will deplete power much more quickly.
How does a Solar Backpack Work?
4. Solar Hot Water
The electricity required to heat water is one of the biggest energy drains on a monthly household budget.
With a solar hot water system, you can have free hot water using power from the sun. All of your domestic or commercial hot water needs can be met with solar thermal panels.
3. Solar Attic Fans
Solar attic fans are an excellent way to help keep the space between your rooms and roof cool and dry. In addition, you can reduce summer-time cooling costs by as much as 30% using a solar powered attic fan.
The cost of these devices, which can be installed in a matter of hours, is usually less than $500, and can be defrayed with energy efficiency tax incentives and credits.
Solar Attic Fan
6. Solar Fabric
Solar fabric is a unique application of solar technology! Solar cells are woven into textile fibers with the ability of generating convenient solar electricity. One version, created by FTL Solar, can literally be pitched like a tent to provide both shelter and electricity.
Consider the endless possibilities: military, rescue operations, disaster relief, recreational options (camping, fishing, hiking, hunting), medical units, and even temporary housing.
Any place you need flexible convenient solar power, solar fabric is your answer.
5. Portable Solar Power
Portable solar power can be an easy way to keep personal electronics charged up. But it also has some important commercial and military uses (see information to the right about solar fabric).
Solar cells may be embedded in solar backpacks, solar straps, solar fabric, roll-out solar panels and much more.
SolarRoll uses PV (photovoltaic) cells and can be rolled and carried in a small backpack. It produces up to 14W of electricity for recharging small devices like cell phones and digital cameras. SolarRoll is useful for people who spend a lot of time outside, including fishers, hunters, hikers and more. The device is also weatherproof, and UV transparent. It costs in a range of $199-$479.
Portable solar power is simple, affordable and convenient.
8. Solar Cookers
Preparing a meal with a solar cooker is often a way of life for people that live far off grid. Here in the United States, our scout troop has made and used solar cookers during camping trips and to learn about renewable energy.
When you use a solar cooker, you save energy and money. First, the power required to heat your oven is not required. Second, excess heat from using a convection oven does not overheat your home. For this reason, solar cookers are great alternatives, especially during summer months.
7. Solar Paint
Solar paint is one of the best examples of building integrated photovoltaics.
That is a fancy way of saying solar energy can be generated with building materials, including siding, roofing and windows.
As discussed in a related article:
Instead of constructing typical solar cells of silicon, polymers dissolved in a solvent creates a “paint” or coating that can be applied to any surface – from homes to offices to cars! It’s inexpensive and versatile.
Unlike bulky photovoltaic solar panels, solar paint uses thin film nano particles instead of silicon as solar conductors. When applied to the sides of structures that face the sun, the thin solar cells invisibly generate clean, green power.
How to Set up a Solar Cooker
10. Solar Powered Street Lights
Municipalities can save money with solar powered street lights, and other traffic or directional signs. In my hometown, crosswalks and signs are illuminated by energy from solar panels.
Rather than having to trench wires and draw on grid-based electricity, solar powered street lights are easy to install and inexpensive to operate.
9. Solar Lawnmower
When I first heard about the solar lawnmower three years ago, I laughed out loud! After all, what homeowner is so busy (or lazy) that they need an automated lawnmower to do the work of trimming grass?
Yes, the solar lawnmower is a popular item! Simply expose the embedded solar panels to sunlight for a few hours, and you'll generate power to run the grass cutter all afternoon.
© 2012 Stephanie Hicks
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