For a long time, solar has been finding itself on non-traditional surfaces in fresh, yet practical, ways. The presence of solar shingles and solar billboards attests to this. Now take, for example, a solar balloon project called Sunhope.


 This initiative, which is being developed by architect Joseph Cory and aerospace engineer Dr. Pini Gurfil, of Israel’s Technion Institute of Technology, is already in the prototype stages and seeks primarily to bring solar power to remote, off-the-grid regions. The helium-filled balloons will likely hover several hundred feet in the air—possibly on a crowded skyscraper rooftop or in the middle of a desert village—and the thin solar cells plating their surfaces will send power to an inverter via a wire. Although they are not yet at the stage where they can power an entire village, these solar balloons are at least durable (they’re supposedly made from the same materials as meteorological balloons) and have high mobility, which makes them ideal for temporary energy at a disaster site.

 Here’s a little peek into the economics of this project, from Reuters:


It will be about a year before the system is ready, Gurfil said. But initial research, both computerised and using a crude prototype, showed a balloon with a three metre (10 ft) diameter could provide about one kilowatt of energy, the same as 25 square metres (269 square feet) of traditional solar panels.

That’s about enough energy for an average person to operate a washing machine and drier. While 25 square metres of traditional solar panels may cost about $10,000, the target cost of the balloon is less than $4,000, with most of the savings coming from the minimal structural support needed, Gurfil said.

The emergence of (or at least plans for) green public utilities such as solar street lights and solar traffic lights give us hope that we can integrate solar power into the mainstream to the point where we won’t even think about it as “solar power,” but rather as simply “energy.” Granted, we’re a long way off from such a future, and there are a plethora of fantastic alternative energy options, but there are some cases in which choosing solar energy is a no-brainer. It’s fantastic to see solar technology being developed for those who will be hit hardest by the effects of climate change—as several writers in this blog have mentioned, the challenges posed by the effects of global warming are leading us toward some very innovative, very efficient solutions.