3 Creative Ways People Are Using Solar Panels

By all accounts 2019 is set to be an exciting year for solar. With photovoltaic and storage prices continuing to drop, and renewables taking over more and more energy production, solar is looking strong for companies and communities alike.

Here at AES Solar, 2019 is especially important because it will mark our 20th year in business in July! While most of our work has been done to empower businesses and homes, the versatility and portability of solar power make it uniquely suited for all kinds of exciting projects. Here are a few newsworthy new uses for solar that you will be hearing about this year.

Pulling Water Out of Thin Air

It’s amazing to think that in 2019, 2.1 billion people still lack access to clean drinking water in their homes. But according to the United Nations, this basic necessity that so many take for granted is still unattainable for over a quarter of the world’s population. This lack of potable water is not only a health concern, but can also make it harder for people to obtain education and escape poverty. That is where solar-powered water harvesting comes in.

Zero Mass Water, a startup funded by the likes of Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, has developed “Source,” an all-in-one system that extracts water vapor from the air, purifies and liquefies it, and stores it in a reservoir that hooks up to home faucets. This system can be deployed anywhere — even in the middle of the desert — and each unit produces between 2 and 5 liters of water per day. At $2000 per unit, it’s still quite pricey, but Zero Mass is working with local governments and non-profit organizations to install Source systems in at-risk communities. Although we only install solar electric systems at AES Solar, we still think this is cool!

Powering Motorcycles

One of the best things about solar power is that it meets you where you are. You don’t have to make huge lifestyle changes to start reaping the benefits of renewable energy. One place where this is poised to make a huge difference is Kenya, where each year around 3 times as many new motorcycles are registered as are automobiles. These motorcycles are essential for young professionals seeking employment in major urban centers like Nairobi, but unfortunately they also produce 10 to 15 times more emissions than cars do. This has led to sharp declines in air quality in several African cities.

Enter the solar-powered motorcycle! Engineers and researchers at the Strathmore Energy Research Center won a $114,000 prize from the 2018 Valeo Innovation Challenge in Paris in October for designing their green machine, which can travel around 30 miles on a charge, recharge in the sun, and revert to pedal power if necessary. When they get back home in the evening, owners can even use any excess energy to power their houses. Strathmore is using their prize money to jump-start mass production, and they expect their motorcycles to start hitting the streets early this year.

Brewing that Perfect Cup of Coffee

Colorado is no stranger to renewable energy, currently one of the Top 10 most sustainable states according to Site Selection Magazine. Urban Colorado is also a mecca for that most millennial of food fads, the food truck. In 2018 two Denver-area friends, a coffee shop owner and an architectural designer, decided to fuse the two ideas and take their coffee shop on the road with the help of a custom truck outfitted with solar panels.

The process was not an easy one! First they had to strip down and tune up the ’79 Toyota they picked for the job. Architectural Designer Andrew Michler credits his years living off-grid for the know-how that helped him rig up the solar panels that run the mobile java joint. Just as vital was finding the right equipment, right down to an energy-efficient espresso machine. What they wound up with is a clean and quiet (no generator!) coffee shop on wheels that can run for 12 hours and serve hundreds of customers. “Sol Coffee” was even awarded the 2018 Best of Design Award for small spaces by Architects Newspaper, and will be slinging joe as of January 21st.

What creative ideas do you have for solar panels? We’d love to hear them! Come by our headquarters in Carterville to talk shop, visit our Educational Showroom, and get a free quote today!

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