3 Amazing Ways Solar is Being Used

 

We did some digging recently and found some amazing ways that solar is being used to power many different projects. From homes and businesses to drones, paint and aeroplanes. Pretty cool right? So, we thought we’d give you a run-down on our favourites. Have a look for yourself at just some of these amazing ways that solar technology is advancing!

Facebook Aquila | The Solar-Powered Drone

Solar powered drone

Image Source: New Atlas

We’re gonna take you back to the start of this project, which began about 7 years ago. In 2014, Facebook purchased Ascenta; an English company based in Bridgwater. Solar-powered drones were Ascenta’s speciality, with the two combining on the project which was named Aquila. Furthermore, the aim of the project was to provide people in remote areas with internet access. This would be done by flying an internet-emitting drone above these underserviced areas. According to Unifly, that very signal covered approximately 96 kilometres in diameter!

You might be wondering how the Aquila could stay in the air for extended periods of time. Well, this is where solar power comes in! Solar technology allowed the drone to be powered during sunlight hours; coupled with a battery storage system in which excess solar would recharge the batteries for use at night. As a result, the drone was capable of flying for up to a couple of months at a time!

Despite the progress that was made, the project was eventually abandoned in 2018; with a failed initial test run and a few great trials under its belt. Nevertheless, Facebook continues to work with companies like Airbus on developing this technology. This is done in the hope that it becomes practical and eventually available to those who need it.

Solar Paint | Does Your Place Need a Makeover?

Solar paint created in Australia

Have you ever wanted to paint your new house, or give your family home a refreshing new look? If you answered yes, you’ve probably wanted to go with a dark grey, or maybe a white… but how about ‘solar panel’?

This one brings us back home to Australia! In 2017, our friends at Melbourne’s RMIT University created a solar paint. This concept is very science-heavy (which is to be expected), so we’ll try to make it easy to understand. Essentially, the paint uses solar power, along with moisture from the air to create hydrogen. A relatively new scientific compound is then used to split the moisture back into hydrogen and oxygen (and the hydrogen atom is what is used to make electricity). Boom!

According to the project’s lead researcher, Dr. Torben Daeneke, you could be coating your home with solar paint from as early as 2022 (and he believes that it won’t be overly expensive!). So, make sure you keep those eyes peeled if you’re keen.

PHASA-35 | Australia’s Solar-Powered Aircraft

 

Solar technology powering an aircraft

Image Source: BAE Systems

In February 2020, English companies BAE Systems and Prismatic combined to work on a high altitude solar aircraft. Two short years passed (which included the design process) before the PHASA-35 was introduced to the world. Moreover, the two companies oversaw the first test flight of the completely unmanned and solar-powered aircraft. The test flight took place at the RAAF Woomera Range Complex; an Australian military facility that you’d find about 450 kilometres north-west of Adelaide in South Australia.

The PHASA-35 sits between the altitude of satellites and traditional aircraft, which is known as the stratosphere. Consequently, the aircraft avoids bad weather and traditional air traffic. This means it could eventually become a cheaper, more sustainable way to help monitor our oceans and detect bushfires.

Solar technology is used in a similar way to the Facebook Aquila; being that the solar panels convert enough energy to power the aircraft during the day, all while storing enough to keep it flying overnight. As a result, the aircraft can stay in-flight for up to a year at a time. How crazy is that?

We’ve shown you just some of the amazing ways that solar technology is being used around the world. Generally speaking, these examples are quite extreme. However, there are smaller-scale developments and breakthroughs happening all the time in residential and commercial solar… so keep an eye out!

 

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Understanding Batteries

Off-Grid Systems

For some households a battery system can be of great benefit and minimise a home’s reliance on the grid. However, it’s important to understand for a battery to be useful your solar system needs to be generating excess energy for the battery to store, which you can then use at night or when the sun is not out.

When selecting a battery, you’ll want to invest in a system that is most suited to your home and can drive the best return on investment (ROI). Despite a larger upfront cost, a higher quality battery may significantly increase your ROI.

    Battery systems start from $6,000 and costs can vary greatly based on the following factors:

  1. Cycle Life-Time

    The number of times a battery can fully charge and discharge.

  2. Battery Power (kW)

    How fast it can be charged or discharged.

  3. Storage Capacity (kWh)

    The maximum amount of energy a battery system can store.

  4. Battery Management System (BMS)

    An electronic ‘smart’ system that gathers data and manages the battery ensuring it does not overload or operate outside of its safe functioning zone..

  5. Inverter

    Battery systems require their own inverter if your solar system does not have a hybrid inverter.

  6. 'All-In-One Unit’

    A system which includes the battery, BMS and an inverter all in one unit.

  7. Warranty

    Length of time or cycles the battery system is under guarantee.

  8. Blackout Protection/Backup

    It’s important to note this is not a common feature of a battery system and could cost thousands of dollars to include. Blackout protection not only requires additional components but also a specialised installation and rewiring. For grid-connected homes, the cost for blackout protection can outweigh the benefit.

Additionally, if your purpose for adding battery is to go Off-Grid and become completely independent from the grid you will need to ensure your solar system can generate enough energy to power your home and your battery system is large enough to store this energy. For homes in metro areas going Off-grid is not cost effective and is only recommended for those in remote areas with limited access to the grid. Off-grid solar systems with battery start at approximately $30,000.
 

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