Solar power. To most people this term probably evokes images of rooftop solar panels on homes and businesses, or huge solar panel arrays glistening in the sun in photovoltaic power stations, delivering utility-scale power to electricity grids. To be sure, these applications of solar energy are a crucial component of the renewable energy movement, but there are other, less obvious places, where solar power is making significant inroads into our lives. The way we travel, for example.
In our modern world, travel has become an integral part of how we live, work, and play. And solar power is appearing more and more as a viable power source for our forms of travel. Let’s take a look at some of these.
Boats and ships are one form of travel where solar energy has already proven to be incredibly effective. Boats are always on the water, and when in use they are almost always in the sun (if it’s not a cloudy day, of course). But anybody who enjoys boating, sailing, or cruising in their yacht will agree that the least enjoyable part of the experience is when it’s time to ‘fuel-up’. Fuel costs alone are enough to dampen spirits, but planning when and where to fuel a boat can also pose a challenge. Fuel stations are rare or non-existent in many areas, limiting the freedom of explorers and travelers. But these boundaries of movement disappear when solar energy is powering the way.
Sun-powered boats are already skirting the waves, ranging from the tiny FunCat catamaran to yachts like the Silent 55 and Silent 65 by Eco Marine Global. Myriad concept boats and ships are currently in design, in production or undergoing test trials. To spark your imagination, check out the Helios concept yacht that features flexible solar cell-clad sails made of silicon, or Duffy London’s solar super yacht, a $33 million, 144 foot long boat that’s expected to be built by 2020.
Mass transit has the potential to play a much larger role in the “greening” of the planet, especially in light of the our explosive population growth. Trains are a significant component of mass transit. Imagine the positive impact that solar powered trains could have as mass transit use increases. The concept became reality in December, 2017 in New South Wales, Australia when the Byron Bay Railroad Company introduced a solar-converted vintage 100-passenger train on a permanent three kilometer route.
Indian Railways has trains with solar panels on their roofs to power on-board services such as lights and fans. The United Kingdom is looking into using solar to power its rail transport. A report by Imperial College London and 10:10 Climate Action estimates that solar energy could power 10 percent of England’s routes, currently running on direct current. So the viability of solar-powered commercial rail transit is very real.
Manned and unmanned solar powered airplanes have been a reality for years. The Solar Impulse 1, for example, an experimental single-seater Swiss aircraft, was first launched in December, 2009. Its successor, Solar Impulse 2, first flew in 2015. With a wingspan wider than a Boeing 747, it’s the first solar powered plane to circumnavigate the globe. Both planes are still making flights while undergoing continuous improvements.
Lifting and sustaining hundreds of tons of payload in the air with solar power is not possible with current technology, so solar powered commercial airliners will remain a very distant prospect, but companies like SolarFlight are conceiving, building, and testing smaller passenger aircraft, such as their solar six-seat transporter, that may find their place in our skies in the visible future.
The application of solar power to methods of travel and the possibilities of solar energy’s use in other areas of our lives inspire those in the industry to dream of ways that solar can be used beyond powering homes and businesses.
Green Solar Technologies COO, Edward Harner, says, “We at GST are impressed but not surprised by the rapid developments of solar technology. We know the possibilities solar energy holds, and we are eager to watch them come to light.”