Sustainable Energy

From space stations to factories: Five interesting ways that solar power is being harnessed 

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Solar power is becoming an increasingly important part of the planet's energy mix.

In 2016, for example, new solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity increased by 50 percent globally, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). The IEA also noted that, for the first time, solar PV additions grew faster than any other fuel.

Here, Sustainable Energy looks at five interesting ways solar power is being used around the world.

International Space Station

A solar panel array attached to the International Space Station.
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A testament to ingenuity, technology and global co-operation, the International Space Station makes 16 orbits of the earth in 24 hours.

The station uses eight solar arrays – each of them 112 feet long and 39 feet wide – to provide it with electricity. Put together, the arrays are made up of 262,400 solar cells covering around 27,000 square feet, according to NASA.

A staggering eight miles of wire connect the station's electrical power system, the space agency adds.

Solar aircraft

Solar Impulse 2, the solar powered plane, flies above Giza Pyramids in Egpyt. 
Jean Revillard | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Solar-powered aircraft offer an intriguing glimpse of what aviation could look like in years to come.

In 2016, the Solar Impulse 2, a manned aircraft powered by the sun, managed to circumnavigate the globe without using fuel. The trip was completed in 17 separate legs.

In August this year, a solar-powered aircraft from European aerospace giant Airbus completed a maiden flight lasting 25 days, 23 hours, and 57 minutes.

The Zephyr S HAPS (High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite) took off from Arizona on July 11 and went on to complete "the longest duration flight ever made," Airbus Defence and Space said in an announcement at the time.


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The aviation sector's use of solar panels is not limited to cutting edge aircraft.

In a statement towards the end of July, Hawaii's Department of Transportation said it would install 4,260 new solar modules at Honolulu's Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.

The panels will be located on the seventh floor of the airport's Terminal 1 parking garage. Solar energy produced by the panels will be used at the airport and help to cut the overall electricity bill by almost half, the Department of Transportation added.

Sports teams

The Lakers’ UCLA Health Training Center is now home to 456 solar panels. 
Arland Communications

The use of solar panels on buildings is becoming increasingly common, with a large number of high profile sporting organisations turning to clean energy.

Towards the end of August, for example, it was announced that the Los Angeles Lakers' training center would use power generated by 456 solar panels.

The panels, installed at the Lakers' UCLA Health Training Center, are set to produce an estimated 245,000 kilowatt hours per year, enough to power 35 homes.


PAUL ELLIS | AFP | Getty Images

The factory roof of luxury car maker Bentley Motors is covered by 20,815 solar panels.

The business says that this roof can meet as much as 40 percent of the site's electrical needs and save an estimated 2,150 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

In April, the business announced it had started construction on what it described as the U.K.'s "largest ever solar-powered car port."

The car port — a structure that provides shelter to parked vehicles — is located at its factory headquarters in Crewe, northwest England, and made up of 10,000 solar panels.