You’ll have seen solar panels on all sorts of buildings, from office blocks and apartments to bungalows and skyscrapers. This is solar energy being harnessed for its primary use: the generation of renewable electricity. Yes, this is the solar you’ve come to know and love.
There are other uses, though, because solar energy is incredibly adaptable.
The world has woken up to its potential and has started applying it elsewhere. Now you can use solar to charge your mobile devices and to extract salt from sea water. We live in a world so technologically advanced that we now have solar-powered rubbish bins. Marvellous.
With all that in mind, here are the diverse ways in which solar energy is being used.
Turn saltwater into drinking-water
Scientists at Rice University, Texas, have pioneered a greener way to extract the salt from sea water, effectively turning it into drinking-water. The usual method is to use desalination plants, which boil the water, capture the steam, and condense it down to drinking-water. Although this works, it requires a huge amount of heat, so it’s by no means environmentally friendly.
Solar desalination is far better for the environment, and it’s a definite game-changer. Using the energy from sunlight to turn saltwater into drinking-water, it has the potential to supply whole towns with its cutting-edge NESMD (nanophotonics-enabled solar membrane distillation) technology.
New research is paving the way for solar energy to be more lightweight, more discreet, and more adaptable. In other words, more wearable.
That’s right: scientists from the University of Tokyo and Japan’s RIKEN research institute are developing solar cell technology that can be integrated into your clothing. Soon, wearable solar will be far more discreet and it won’t feel as much like lugging a solar panel on your back. The technology will be linked with the Internet of Things, meaning that its products will be able to charge your smartphone, laptop, and other devices.
Although wearable solar has been done before – Ralph Lauren unveiled a line of solar-powered backpacks in 2011 – the results were often cumbersome or just plain unsightly.
Trains, planes, and automobiles
Solar energy is fast-becoming a transportable technology, and research in the last decade or so shows its potential for the transport industry.
From solar-powered cars to cruise-liners flanked with solar panels, the future looks promising. In fact, the first solar-powered bus was introduced way back in 2013, and then two years later we saw the world’s first solar-powered airplane (Solar Impulse) complete a five-day tour across multiple continents.
Closer to home, research from Imperial College London predicts that by 2020 the majority of UK trains will be powered by solar energy. Imagine the potential: the UK transportation industry currently absorbs a mammoth amount of non-renewable energy, so it would definitely be a step in the right direction.
Did somebody say solar-powered bins?
In 2012, the world’s first solar-powered bins were installed on Dundee University’s campus. A grant of £41,000 from Zero Waste Scotland allowed the university to purchase ten solar-powered bins, which crush waste as they’re filled, giving the bins greater capacity.
The more these bins can contain, the greater the benefits. Greater capacity reduces collection trips and fuel costs, and can even cut greenhouse gases by 80%.
The ‘Big Belly’ bins use an online management system through which they update real-time capacity levels, so you’ll know when they need to be emptied.
When solar gets cinematic
In Swansea, you can see a film at the world’s only solar-powered cinema. Styled out with traditional usherettes and old-fashioned ticket stubs, The Sol Cinema can fit eight adults or ten children inside, and shows short films only.
Having been awarded £5,000 at TalkTalk’s Digital Heroes Award, the cinema has gone from strength to strength in its eco-warrior efforts, and is even available to hire at festivals like Glastonbury and T in the Park.
Interested in solar energy?
Solar is at the frontier of renewable energy, and its technology is constantly evolving. With us, your home or business can be part of the movement. Whether you’re an eco-warrior or would just like to save a little money, our products are for everyone. Give us call and we’ll talk about your options.