Surprisingly Solar: On the Move, In your Closet and On the Horizon

Solar energy is as old as sin, dating back to when cavemen utilized the sun’s rays to make fires and burn ants. Today, we have astronauts living 200 miles above Earth in the solar-powered International Space Station – and cutting-edge uses continue to blaze new paths.

Planes, trains, automobiles … and boats

  • Solar Impulse completed a record-breaking 7,200 km (4,400 miles) 5-day, 5-night flight from Japan to Hawaii – without a drop of fuel. Reaching an altitude of more than 28,000 feet, the solar-powered aircraft has a wingspan larger than a Boeing 747. Solar Impulse is currently in Hawaii undergoing a battery overhaul. Pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg will resume the round-the-world solar flight in April.
  • Indian Railways, said to be the world’s fourth largest railway system, recently installed solar panels on the roofs of passenger trains and is now eyeing solar panels on rooftops of railway stations.
  • Stella Lux, a four-passenger solar-powered sedan, took first place in the 2015 World Solar Challenge Cruiser Class. Forty teams from 20 countries traveled 3,000 km (1,800 miles) through Australia. Stella Lux is the progeny of Stella, the world’s first solar-powered family car. Stella also won the World Solar Challenge Cruiser Class in 2013 and subsequently hit the road on a global tour of four continents.
  • PlanetSolar, the largest solar boat ever built, has sailed more than 20,000 km (12,000 miles) around the world. It is now in the hands of Race for Water, shining a light on plastic pollution in the oceans.

A flare for fashion

Tommy Hilfiger jackets. Pauline van Dongen shirts. Tzukuri sunglasses. Project Solaire backpacks.

Photovoltaic has never been so sexy.

Designers are riding the wave of wearable solar garments and accessories as a way to keep our gadgets charged – or, in the case of the sunglasses, from being left behind.

You might be surprised at the various ways solar panels have been incorporated into design aesthetics. These items are chic and, in some cases, washable. Check it out here.

What’s next

  • Farming: The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a $63 million infusion into clean energy for the farming industry. Some $16,000 of that is going to a Georgia-based company to install solar arrays on the roofs of its poultry houses, and a fruit farm in Ohio will receive $18,000 for solar panels.
  • Medicine: The industry has been leveraging solar energy to sterilize medical and dental equipment, refrigerate medications, and deliver lighting and power for mobile and medical devices in areas without consistent electricity. The medical science behind solar continues to evolve, including a recent breakthrough that may restore sight to the blind, and utlitizing solar cells as a testing method for certain cancers.
  • Internet: Electronics superstar Samsung has opened Solar Powered Internet Schools across 15 African countries, and Google and Facebook are exploring solar-powered drones and huge balloons in a quest to provide internet access around the world.