Solar panels are on more than a million rooftops in the United States, so they are getting to be a pretty common sight. We also see them along our highways powering lights and signs and emergency call boxes. As it gets cheaper and more common, solar technology is starting to show up in more unusual ways.
Some companies are working on windows that allow visible light to shine in while simultaneously collecting the rays we can’t see to convert them into electricity. If the technology is successfully scaled up into large sheets of solar glass, the windows of large commercial building could become good sources of electricity.
Some cars are starting to include solar panels on their roofs. There isn’t enough space on a car roof to generate a huge amount of power, but connecting the output of the solar panels to the car’s battery can increase the efficiency and reliability of the car’s electrical system.
Companies are now making solar-powered vaccine refrigerators that allow healthcare workers in developing countries to administer critical medication to those who need it in remote places where there is no electrical grid or where the existing infrastructure is so poor that chronic power outages are common.
Solar-powered streetlights are becoming increasingly common as well. The sun charges a battery during the day so that LED-based streetlights can shine at night. Some places, such as in San Diego, California, are using so-called smart streetlights that combine intelligent sensors with solar-powered lights and have the ability to direct drivers to open parking spaces and help first responders during emergencies.
Cheap, plentiful solar power is doing more all the time.
Photo, posted August 24, 2009, courtesy of Robert Ashworth via Flickr.