Solar Energy

The Future Is Bright: A Solar-Powered Plane and 5 Other Innovative Uses of Solar Power

The Future Is Bright: A Solar-Powered Plane and 5 Other Innovative Uses of Solar Power

Wearable Solar Shirt

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Solar energy is finding its way into innovations big and small all over the world -- and the sky's the limit.

On Sunday, the Solar Impulse 2, an entirely solar-powered experimental airplane, was flown from Hawaii to California, successfully crossing the Pacific Ocean. The 62-hour flight was piloted by Solar Impulse co-founder and chairman Bertrand Piccard. Piccard and his co-founder André Borschberg are attempting to fly around the world utilizing only solar power.

The duo began their journey in Abu Dhabi last spring, and in July, after a record-breaking 117 hours and 52 minute-long solo flight from Japan to Hawaii, the plane -- a one-seater with a 72-meter wingspan -- had to be grounded to fix its damaged battery pack.  

Related: 7 Clean-Tech Companies That Solve More Than Environmental Problems

Solar Impulse isn't the only innovator in the application of clean energy to aerospace technology. Last week, NASA laid out some of its goals for the development of the latest X-planes -- to "burn half the fuel and generate 75 percent less pollution during each flight as compared to now, while also being much quieter than today’s jets."  

Here's a glance at some more of the ways solar technology is making an impact in a wide range of industries, ranging from architecture to animal conservation.


George Airport, located in Western Cape Province in South Africa, is Africa's first solar-powered airport. Forty percent of the airport's electricity comes from the panels that were installed for nearly $1 million. Some 600,000 travelers fly in and out of the airport every year. Officials in Africa are looking to equip eight more airports with the technology. Last year, the Cochin International Airport Limited in Kerala, India, became the first airport in the world to be solar powered.


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Designer Pauline van Dongen has made an assortment of solar-powered garments, including a winter parka, jacket, dress, and most recently, a stylish shirt. The wearer of the T-shirt can use the power of the sun absorbed by the clothing to charge a mobile phone within two hours.

Related: Elon Musk: A Carbon Tax Is the Only Way to End World's Dependence on Fossil Fuels

Migration patterns

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Solar power has also been utilized as a way to learn more about the migration and feeding habits of all manner of rare and sometimes endangered creatures and the heretofore undiscovered aspects of the natural world. Researchers have been able to find underwater mountain ranges thanks to solar-powered trackers on humpback whales, and follow California condors as they fly 15,000 feet in the air. Scientists in Yellowstone National Park are also monitoring the area's grizzly bear population to see where they are finding food sources.

National utilities

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This week, Singapore announced that the country's commercial and industrial entities are now able to purchase solar-generated power from the national power grid in an effort to cut down on environmental emissions.

Related: Why We Don't Want to See a Total Solar-Panel Eclipse Over Nevada


Image credit: Kyocera
Two companies in Japan, Century Tokyo Leasing and electronics maker Kyocera, are partnering to build the world's biggest installation of floating solar panels -- a module of 51,000 to be located on top of the Yamakura Dam reservoir outside of Tokyo. The installation is planned to be completed in 2018, with an goal to annually produce 16,170 megawatt hours, which could power nearly 5,000 homes.