Recently in…Solar Power

Over the millennia, our sun has played countless roles. It has been worshipped and used as a calendar. Debate over its position in the universe even caused men to lose their lives. Its shine can make us happy when skies are grey. Although many aspects of the star remain a mystery, there’s no argument about its power. It’s immense.

The sun generates nuclear energy by fusing 620 million metric tons of hydrogen each second. With the largest energy source known to man resting above our heads, we’re finally beginning to improve ways to harness the sun’s seemingly limitless power. This week’s “Recently in” is all about the inventive ways we’re using solar technology – including solar-powered donkeys, clothing, benches, roads and race cars. Put your shades on and don’t look directly into the sun.

How Solar-Paneled “Plug-and-Play Donkeys” Bring the Internet to Turkish Sheepherders

While traveling or during a night out we usually run into one instance when our mobile phones need an unexpected charge. If you’re near civilization, this problem is often easily solved. Not so much when you’re sheepherding in rural Turkey. That is until donkeys jumped on the wearable technology bandwagon. Herders are equipping their beasts of burden with solar panels capable of generating 5-7 kilowatts of energy, which is enough to charge cell phones, laptops and power lights for night travel. Add donkeys to the Internet of Things.

The Internet of Donkeys


These Solar-Powered Benches Charge Phones for Free

Late last month, solar-powered smart benches, called Soofas, were turned on in Boston, Massachusetts. Created by MIT Media Lab spinoff Changing Environments, a Soofa provides people with a free charging station through USB ports. The benches are also connected to the Internet (add benches to the list of “things”) to upload environmental information, such as noise levels and air quality along with details on how much power is being generated. If you’re in the Boston area, Soofas are located in Titus Sparrow Park in the South End, the Boston Common, and the Rose Kennedy Greenway. No word on solar-powered Donkeys in the Public Garden though.

Crowdfunding Campaign Raises $2.2 Million to Build Solar Roadways

Walking on the sun might not be as crazy when roads are paved with solar panels. On Monday, June 23, Solar Roadways closed a $2.2 million crowdfunding project that included nearly 50,000 investors from 165 countries. The idea is to replace asphalt with solar panels that will collect energy and generate more than three times the electricity currently consumed in the United States. The panels have the ability to withstand the weight of a 250,000-pound truck and will also melt snow, warn drivers of debris, help you brake for moose and cut greenhouse emissions by as much as 75 percent. It could just be crazy enough to work, but we’ll find out when a finished product arrives at the end of the year.

Wearable Solar Dress Project

When you need power and a donkey is not available, the best thing to do is wear a solar dress. Created by Dutch fashion designer Pauline van Dongen, solar panels are stitched into the fabric allowing the dress to create sustainable energy. The dress is not yet available for sale, but when it is we’ll be one step closer to becoming The Matrix-inspired human batteries. Won’t we feel like donkeys?

Solar Dress Project


American Solar Challenge

Each year, college students from around the world work to design, build, and drive a solar-powered car across thousands of miles. This year’s American Solar Challenge begins on July 21 and will cover an eight-day, 1700+ mile road course traveling through seven states from Austin, TX, to Minneapolis, MN. SOLIDWORKS is proud to sponsor several teams vying for the 2014 championship including the University of Texas, Austin, the University of California, Berkeley, Western Michigan University and Southern Illinois University. Good luck and may the sun shine warmly upon your faces!

Western Michigan University’s Sunseeker


If you’re an educator or student interested in learning what SOLIDWORKS has to offer, download our free SOLIDWORKS Student Engineering Kit for the summer.

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Solar Donkey screenshot courtesy of the BBC

Solar Dress image courtesy of Pauline van Dongen

Sunseeker image courtesy of Western Michigan University


Mike Fearon

Mike Fearon

Senior Manager Brand Offer Marketing, Dassault Systemes SOLIDWORKS. Video game world champion and whisky advocate. I like turtles.