Written by Guest | Last Updated October 31st, 2019Our goal here at BestCompany.com is to provide you with the honest, reliable information you need to find companies you can trust.
Solar energy *test* has been around for a very long time-just over a century-but the industry, as a whole, is still in its infancy. And while solar energy accounts for less than one percent of America's total energy production, the demand for solar power is steadily increasing. In fact, from 2010 to 2014, solar installations have gone up over 400% while the average cost of solar energy has dropped by more than half.
But growth in the solar industry is about more than just the number of solar systems being installed or the size of a given solar farm - it's about how we're harnessing the power of the sun the make the world a better and a cleaner place. To get you excited about solar energy, we've identified four game-changing developments: from planes in the sky to technology that plugs you into the solar grid, solar tech is changing the way we both access and think about electricity.
1. Solar-Powered Planes
When you think of solar-powered transportation, you probably think of one of those lightweight, slow-moving cars built by engineering students to demonstrate how solar energy works. This image might cause you to think, "well, that's cool, but we're clearly years away from fast and sustainable solar-powered transport." But the people at Solar Impulse are trying to change those preconceived notions of solar travel by introducing the first solar-powered airplane. The company claims that the Solar Impulse 2 - the second iteration of their project - is the first fully sustainable solar airplane: "able to fly day and night on solar power, without a drop of fuel." To back up this claim, the pilots and founders of Solar Impulse are flying their project around the globe, starting in Abu Dhabi, touring across the United States and Europe, and ending back in Abu Dhabi.
Solar Impulse 2
The Solar Impulse 2 is a single-rider plane made with a carbon fiber skeleton. It has a wingspan of 72 meters (236 feet), weighs just 2,300 kilograms (just over 5,000 pounds), and has been fitted with over 17,000 individual solar panels. Solar Impulse 2's round the world flight has made its most recent stop in Hawaii, with plans of making future stops in Phoenix, AZ, the mid-USA, and New York.
2. Pay-as-You-Go Solar in Africa
Speaking of solar energy's steadily rising global reach, one company is looking to not only reduce the world's carbon footprint, but also provide access to electricity to rural communities in Africa. currently, there are over 600 million residents of sub-Saharan Africa who do not have access to electricity, and will therefore spend up to $17 billion each year on kerosene lighting, candles, and disposable batteries. While these rural African communities are behind the curve in many ways technologically speaking, one area in which they flourish is in the use of mobile phone technology - to the point where mobile phones are almost ubiquitous; however, these people have no sustainable way to charge them.
That's where Azuri Technologies, a U.K.-based commercial provider of what it calls "PayGo" solar systems, comes in. Azuri Technologies is taking an innovative approach to this problem by using a familiar model. For a small fee, residents of rural African communities can purchase an entry-level solar system, and then pay for this system in weekly installments. Through mobile technology, users can upload their weekly payments to the solar provider and receive instant power. The system provides up to eight hours of clean energy each day and, according to the company, is cheaper than what residents are already paying for kerosene. So not only are African residents receiving daily access to electricity, but they are also paying less for it.
3. Classes in Solar Engineering
With the increasing demand for solar energy comes an increased demand for solar panel installers. In response to that demand, some high schools, like McKinley High School in Buffalo, NY, are seeking to prepare their students to work in the solar industry. School administrators prepare their students in a few different ways: first, teachers are implementing solar energy theory into their curricula to help their students understand how solar energy works, where it comes from, and how it is implemented into a city's power grid. These courses provide students with valuable entry-level skills to work as solar panel installers following high school.
A second way students are being prepared to work in the solar industry is by gaining first-hand experience. Several school that are located near solar providers are having solar systems installed on their on roofs. Students interested in electrical engineering or solar power are then allowed to shadow the technicians who are actually installing the system. This is just one of the ways we can reduce our carbon footprint - by educating the next generation on the importance of clean energy, then giving students the tools necessary to make a difference.
4. Solar Energy (without the Panels?)
While the average installation and maintenance costs associated with a full-fledged solar panel system are going down, they can still be hugely expensive for some people. The fact of the matter is solar energy is still fairly inaccessible to the average consumer. Until now.
Introducing SunPort, a simple solution that helps the everyday consumer tap into solar energy without having to actually purchase or lease a solar system. The idea is fairly simple. The great majority of solar systems - be they residential or commercial - tend to produce much more energy than they consume. For each additional megawatt-hour a solar system produces a new solar credit is created. These solar credits are most often purchased by big businesses like Apple, Google, and Starbucks as a way for them to use solar energy without the additional cost of purchasing and installing the system.
SunPort now gives consumers the same power by providing them with a simple device that can plug into any electrical outlet. This device essentially allows you to pay for solar credits to power your phone, appliances, or anything you plug in. SunPort then takes a portion of the money you pay to help fund additional solar non-profits, increasing the overall demand for solar energy.
The solar industry is rapidly changing, and a great deal is being done to increase that less-than-one percent solar energy accounts for. If you are interested in learning about what solar options are available to you, check out our best solar company reviews.