Magic of Solar Cells Applications

These images were shown on The Magic of Solar Cells Poster. We’ve included some brief information here about each image and encourage you to research each application further. Use some of the vocabulary from our descriptions as keywords when you search for more of the story.


Capturing sunlight to propel a vehicle using solar cells is a challenging task. Most solar vehicles will store the solar electricity in a battery, which then powers the vehicle. It’s a delicate balance to make the vehicle light weight yet have enough battery capacity to go as far as desired. Included here are examples of planes, boats, and cars that are using solar electricity.

The Solar Impulse is the first solar powered airplane, with one passenger, to complete a voyage around the world in 2016.

Several electric vehicle companies, including Lightyear shown here, are working to integrate solar cells into the body of the car, helping to recharge the car’s battery and extend it’s range.

Another example of an electric vehicle with integrated solar cells. [Sion]

The PlanetSolar boat is the first solar powered boat to circumnavigate the earth.

High School students build and race solar powered boats, both in Southern California (shown here with the Solar Schoolhouse and Indio HS team at the MWD Solar Cup) and Northern California at SMUD’s Solar Regatta

Perhaps the best way to solar charge a car is by placing the solar array at a charging station, as shown here with a Tesla supercharger station.

Tor and Jannike Allen, of Solar Schoolhouse, check out this 1-person 100% solar electric vehicle at the Makerfaire in Northern California. High school and college students design and race these types of vehicles in events such as the World Solar Challenge.

Around the World

The examples shown here, from around the world, are primarily the standalone type of solar electric system, not reliant on an electrical grid. Each of these systems include a battery to store the sun’s energy, providing power at night as well. Solar cell systems can be scaled to provide just the right amount of electricity for what is needed, anywhere the sun shines.

This camel is delivering solar chilled vaccines in the Sahara Desert.

Solar panels together with a battery and LED lighting technology are proving to be a winning combination.

A small solar panel provides power for lights and communications in shelters such as this Yurt in Mongolia.

Solar powered medical clinics can easily be deployed when & where needed, as shown in this example from Clinic in a Can.

Solar powered water pumps provide clean water to remote communities.


One of the first practical use of solar cells was on satellites, opening the door for the global communications that we enjoy today. Other examples include providing standalone power for cell phones or remote weather monitoring systems.

Most satellites today are powered by solar cells. The Vanguard was the first to be powered by solar in 1958.

Solar power makes remote telecommunications possible.

Solar powered cameras keep an eye out for wildfires.

Solar cells power this cell phone charging kiosk in Rwanda.

Grid Communities

The Electrical Grid provides electricity to many parts of the world, linking power plants to cities via vast networks of wires. Putting solar cell systems on buildings within a grid community helps provide cleaner energy directly where it’s needed, and thereby reducing the use of fossil fuel power plants. Some solar applications within grid communities are standalone systems, providing independent power for specific needs, cheaper and more reliably than connecting to the nearby grid.

Many schools are installing solar carports to help power their campuses, as shown at this high school in Sebastopol, California.

Rooftops are put to work in this Solar Community in Freiburg, Germany

Solar Farms, large solar arrays, feed the grid with clean electricity.

Though there is a nearby grid, this solar umbrella works independently to charge phones and laptops at a university in Oregon.

It’s cheaper to power some systems independently with solar, even in grid environments, as shown with this solar power bike share system.

Another example of solar powering a specific load, solar cross walks. It’s cheaper than trenching grid power and it’s more reliable.