There are the obvious applications, such as roof-mounted solar panels and self-charging mobile devices, but solar energy will see many new and exciting deployments as panels become more efficient, eventually leading to the creation of commercially-viable solar vehicles including cars, trains, planes, and even spacecraft.
Currently, air transport is one of the fastest-rising causes of greenhouse gas emissions. Airplane pollution, which has risen by about two-thirds since 2005, is forecast to jump as much as sevenfold by 2050 as incomes in developing countries rise, making air travel affordable for billions of people. Solar aircraft are already being developed as a potential solution. In 2016, a solar plane managed to circumvent the Earth in 17 days without using any additional fuel. In 2018, Airbus’ solar plane flew for 26 days uninterrupted, setting a new record in this department. Currently, these plans are experimental in nature, but as panels become more energy-efficient and materials get lighter, we will soon see commercially-viable passenger planes that run on solar energy.
There are already projects that aim to create entire towns that run solely on solar power. Solar is of particular interest to isolated low-income communities as it provides remarkable stability for villages and towns disconnected from public grids. 13.6% of the world’s population lacks access to electricity, and solar will be a key solution for these 1.1 billion people.
Solar is already being used in the form of roof-mounted panels, but more recently there have been new developments that ‘hide’ the panel into the architecture of a building, including solar roof shingles and solar glass.
Desertification occurs when deserts expand due to loss of native vegetation and increasing global temperatures. To reverse desertification, water must be filtered and efficiently used, which requires energy. Solar systems may be the key to reversing desertification and introducing vegetation into deserts. Solar power is also a remarkably clean source of energy, with emissions limited only to the production of solar panels.
On the 26th of November 2018, the NASA probe InSight landed on Mars, drilling its surface for soil samples to analyze for scientists back on Earth. To gain a consistent and easily-accessible source of energy, the probe uses solar panels to power the drill and its communication equipment.
Solar is the premiere long-term source of energy onboard the International Space Station as well as many other spacecraft. 55% to 60% of solar energy is lost as the Earth’s atmosphere catches much of it on its way down. In space, solar is a much more powerful source of energy than on Earth, which allows it to be used as an effective and practically limitless propellant.
A solar sail is made up of a reflective surface, or several surfaces, depending on the sail’s design. When the bright sails face the Sun directly, they are subjected to a steady barrage of photons that reflect off the shiny surfaces and impel the spacecraft forward, away from the Sun. By changing the angle of the sail relative the Sun it is possible to affect the direction in which the sail is propelled – just as a sailboat changes the angle of its sails to affect its course. It is even possible to direct the spacecraft towards the Sun, rather than away from it, by using the photon’s pressure on the sails to slow down the spacecraft’s speed and bring its orbit closer to the Sun.
With its unparalleled versatility, improving effectiveness and cheap cost, solar energy will certainly find increasing utilization in the future. It is already seeing deployment in a great range of use cases and these will expand as panels get smaller and more energy-efficient. The future is bright for solar energy, and at FUERGY, we are excited about the potential it offers for our New Energy Ecosystem. To read more about renewable energy, energy optimization or microgrids, visit our website, subscribe to our newsletter or follow us on social media.
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