Solar energy is amongst the renewables revolution that’s even now experiencing a surge of popularity and global support. While there are steady steps being taken to make it even more affordable and efficient for homes all across the UK, it’s already being put to use in some brilliantly innovative projects. Here are just a few of our favourites.
Following on from our examination of the world’s first solar road opening in France late last year, it was actually not the first big project to grace a major transportation route. Since all the way back in 2011, Belgium has been enjoying the benefits of a ground-breaking solar rail tunnel connecting Paris to Amsterdam. The tunnel has 16,000 solar panels on its roof, which together cover an area roughly equivalent to eight football pitches. The electricity they produce is designed to feed into the infrastructure of the train line itself, powering lighting signals and in-train power points for charging smartphones, laptops and other electrical goodies. Combined, these 16,000 solar panels generate about 3.3MWh of electricity a year, which is enough to power 4000 trains all by themselves. Anyone who says renewables aren’t a viable source of energy – think again!
In one of the most ambitious uses of solar energy the world has seen so far, two Swiss adventurers completed the world’s first solar powered flight in July of last year. Their plane used no fossil fuels, instead running entirely on the power generated from the 17,000 solar panels across its 72-metre wingspan (wider than a Boeing 747!). During the daylight hours the plane’s batteries were charged by the panels, which made up to around a quarter of its entire weight, and once night fell, it descended to conserve energy. It spent just over three weeks in the air like this, launching from Abu Dhabi and crossing the span of the entire globe before touching back down in the Asian city just 23 days later. The team behind this amazing achievement says rather than simply a feat of aviation, it was also intended to showcase the enormous potential of solar energy. We don’t know about you, but we at Low Carbon Energy certainly think it did just that.
It seems like a tough job to top the impressive round-the-world trip above, but somehow a team of medical experts did just that. They were looking at the problem of medical care in remote locations – in Haiti, for example, sick or injured people often have to travel under their own steam to their doctor, who might be lacking resources or even basic shelter to provide for their patients. In answer to this problem, the affectionately named Clinic In A Can was born. To be more accurate, it’s technically a clinic in a shipping container, as its masterminds reasoned that the infrastructure already existed to transport shipping containers – allowing the clinic to be transported to remote locations without the need for specially designed transport vehicles.
The clinic has inbuilt air conditioning to protect doctors and their patients from the often extreme elements outside, and it sources its power almost entirely from the solar panels installed upon its roof. The design here is particularly clever – the panels can be quickly removed and reinstalled by laypeople, allowing the clinic to easily be transported by land or sea just like any other container. Its self-sufficiency means it can travel anywhere in the world, and provide medical assistance in the most remote of locations – all thanks to solar power.
After all that world-changing innovation, our solar panel solutions here at Low Carbon Energy might even seem relatively humble by comparison – but that doesn’t mean they’re not useful to you! Our solar panels are already hard at work in a variety of sectors – check out our consultancy page to find out how we could save you money on your energy bills.
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