5 Crazy Places You Can Now Find Solar Panels

Solar panels aren’t just for the roof of your house any more. Check out these five surprising uses of solar technology.

Jan 11, 2014 at 1:16PM

Increasingly, homeowners and big business are turning to solar to power their homes, factories, and warehouses. The growth of solar was a big story in 2013, and it will likely continue to be a big story in 2014. What many people don't realize, however, is that solar power has gone beyond roof-top panels and solar farms and is now showing up in many surprising places. Today, we're looking at five of the most interesting applications of solar power.

Vegas Sign

Source: James Marvin Phelps on Flickr.

1. The Vegas welcome sign 
The "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada" sign went up in 1959. Earlier this week, it powered up via solar panels for the first time. It's only fitting that this iconic landmark went solar, giving that Nevada ranks first in solar power potential, according to the Energy Information Administration. 

2. Newspapers
Granted, newspapers do not need solar power, but the technology developed by MIT to adhere paper-thin solar films to flimsy newspaper is fascinating, and will likely have a far-reaching impact on future materials development.

MIT first produced its ultra-thin solar cells in 2011, but it has been working steadily since to improve the efficiency of the quantum dots, as they are known, which is already great enough to power small devices. Perhaps most significantly, the process to develop the quantum dots is nowhere near as energy-intensive as the current process for manufacturing photovoltaics. 

3. Parking lots 
Out in Sandpoint, Idaho, a company called Solar Roadways is building a parking lot out of solar panels. Using layers of special glass, LED lights, and solar panels, this development could transform not just parking lots, but country roads and highways alike. This is one of the more fascinating developments for solar. Instead of wasting space building solar farms, why not just convert roads and parking lots into solar panels?

4. Garbage cans 
Chances are you've seen a BigBelly Solar trash compactor in a city or town near you. The receptacles are outfitted with a solar panel that powers both the compaction capability, as well as a wireless communication pack that lets the refuse company know when the bin needs to be emptied. It's efficient in more ways than one, saving cities, towns, colleges, and universities on collection costs.

5. Cars 
Ford (NYSE:F) made a big splash when it revealed its C-Max Solar Energi concept car at the CES conference this week. The vehicle was designed with a special concentrating lens that focuses sunlight onto solar panels atop the car's roof. SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWR), one of the leading solar players in the U.S., provided the panels for the vehicle.

A day's worth of sun exposure in any city in the U.S. is enough to power the concept car for an all-electric range of 21 miles. Clearly, it is not built for road trips, but if you park your car outside anyway, and you take mostly short trips, why not buy a car that you never have to buy gas for and never have to plug in? It's not going to replace traditional vehicles tomorrow, but that doesn't mean there's no market at all for this sort of innovation.

Why not?
If it means one less battery to charge or one less wire to trip over, why shouldn't Americans embrace solar power? Not every application has to be a derisive battle about whether or not we can use solar to replace coal on a grand scale. There are plenty of everyday uses for solar power that make our lives easier, and that's important.

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Fool contributor Aimee Duffy owns shares of Ford. The Motley Fool recommends Ford. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

4 in 5 Americans Are Ignoring Buffett's Warning

Don't be one of them.

Jun 12, 2015 at 5:01PM

Admitting fear is difficult.

So you can imagine how shocked I was to find out Warren Buffett recently told a select number of investors about the cutting-edge technology that's keeping him awake at night.

This past May, The Motley Fool sent 8 of its best stock analysts to Omaha, Nebraska to attend the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder meeting. CEO Warren Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger fielded questions for nearly 6 hours.
The catch was: Attendees weren't allowed to record any of it. No audio. No video. 

Our team of analysts wrote down every single word Buffett and Munger uttered. Over 16,000 words. But only two words stood out to me as I read the detailed transcript of the event: "Real threat."

That's how Buffett responded when asked about this emerging market that is already expected to be worth more than $2 trillion in the U.S. alone. Google has already put some of its best engineers behind the technology powering this trend. 

The amazing thing is, while Buffett may be nervous, the rest of us can invest in this new industry BEFORE the old money realizes what hit them.

KPMG advises we're "on the cusp of revolutionary change" coming much "sooner than you think."

Even one legendary MIT professor had to recant his position that the technology was "beyond the capability of computer science." (He recently confessed to The Wall Street Journal that he's now a believer and amazed "how quickly this technology caught on.")

Yet according to one J.D. Power and Associates survey, only 1 in 5 Americans are even interested in this technology, much less ready to invest in it. Needless to say, you haven't missed your window of opportunity. 

Think about how many amazing technologies you've watched soar to new heights while you kick yourself thinking, "I knew about that technology before everyone was talking about it, but I just sat on my hands." 

Don't let that happen again. This time, it should be your family telling you, "I can't believe you knew about and invested in that technology so early on."

That's why I hope you take just a few minutes to access the exclusive research our team of analysts has put together on this industry and the one stock positioned to capitalize on this major shift.

Click here to learn about this incredible technology before Buffett stops being scared and starts buying!

David Hanson owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and American Express. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, Google, and Coca-Cola.We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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