7 Solar Sensations: From Your Pocket to the Sky

Energy from the sun can power phones, cars, planes and more.

ByABC News
June 24, 2009, 6:18 PM

June 25, 2009— -- The sky would be the limit if it were possible to effectively harness the power of the sun.

That's not the case yet. But now that President Barack Obama and other world leaders are committing to developing green technology, experts say we could be getting closer.

Jeremy Kaplan, editor of GoodCleanTech.com, said that in the past eight to 12 months, there has been a boom in green technology, including solar. "It's all a response to the Obama administration's investments in green technology," he said.

After decades of not investing in it, solar technology isn't where it could be. But, with new federal support, he thinks that will change.

"We can do some really innovative stuff given the the extra funding," he said. "We'll see solar cells invade our lives over the next couple of years."

In the meantime, here are a few stand-outs offering a sneak preview.

Solar Impulse's solar-powered aircraft may only have room for two, but make no mistake about it -- this plane is a big deal. The aircraft, dubbed the HB-SIA, brings aviation innovators one step closer to a solar-powered commercial airplane.

The plane's specs include a wingspan of about 200 feet, a weight of about 3,527 pounds and a maximum altitude of about 27,887 feet. At the project's helm are Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, the men behind Solar Impulse.

Piccard and Borschberg will unveil the plane's prototype Friday and, if the plane's test flights go well, plan to build a second plane in 2011, with the eventual aim of completing a flight around the globe.

In the spirit of 21st century technology, Samsung's solar-powered "Blue Earth" cell phone matches innovation with an environmental conscience.

The phone, made available this week in Asia, is made from recycled plastic, packaged in recycled paper and equipped with a built-in pedometer that allows users to measure their individual carbon footprints.

"Blue Earth" is charged via a solar panel on its back, a device so efficient, Samsung claims, users can make calls on the phone "anytime anywhere."

To help campers find their tents in crowded music festivals at night, the tent uses so-called "glo-cation" technology. A text message sent from a cell phone triggers the tent to glow in the dark.

And once the interior temperature drops below a certain point, a heater embedded in the tent's groundsheet automatically switches on.

It all sounds pretty dreamy. But if you're a strict, no-creature comforts camper, take heart: It's all just a vision for now. No plans are underway to bring it to market yet.

Later this year, residents of Florence, Italy, will get to touch a piece of the future, literally.

A prototype of a solar-powered, interactive bus shelter will launch in the city in October, and researchers hope a whole system of a few thousand will follow in 2010.

Designed by architects and engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's SENSEable City Lab, the EyeStop is covered with touch-sensitive e-INK and screens.

While waiting for the bus, riders can check e-mail, monitor air quality and check out the exact location of the bus they are waiting for.

In May, San Francisco cut the ribbon on the first of its own system of solar powered bus stations. The energy powers energy-efficient lights and bus route information systems.

MUNI (San Francisco's Municipal Transportation Agency) is also testing Wi-Fi connections so that people can surf the Internet on smart phones and laptops while waiting for the bus.

It was unveiled as a concept car but rumors are spreading online that the company could begin limited production within a couple of years.

Covering more than a thousand acres and generating enough power for about 78,000 homes, the Solar Energy Generating Systems is the largest solar installation in the world.

Collectively, the nine plants in California's Mojave Desert produce about 354 megawatts of power, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

Because the Mojave Desert receives so much sunlight, it is especially suited for solar installations. One of the most recent, Nevada Solar One, covers about 400 acres.

They may not impress with their size or style, but solar-powered phone and gadget chargers deserve a nod for giving us portable power.

The Solio Classic Hybrid Charger, for examples, weighs 5.6 ounces and easily slips in a pocket or purse. But after spending an hour in the sun, the $99.95 gadget can charge your phone for 15 minutes of talk time or your MP3 player for 40 minutes. It may not be the best way to charge a phone but, in an emergency, it could certainly see you through.

The Juice Bag, from Washington, D.C.-based Reware, serves a similar function. The beach tote features a solar panel on the front and if you're spending a day at the beach or lake, it can become the power source for your iPod, phone or camera. At $249.99, it's not cheap. But the company says it can charge your devices in about the same amount of time as if they were plugged into a wall socket.

ABC News' Dean Praetorius contributed to this report.