5 Craziest Solar Panel Installations You’ve Ever Seen

Solar power has come a long way over the last 50 years. What was once considered a fringe technology is now a regular part of our lives, with solar panels appearing in residential, commercial, and government projects.

But just because solar technology has become more common, that doesn’t mean that all solar panel installations are simple (see why). To show how exciting solar technology can be, we’ve profiled five of the craziest solar panel installations in the world.

1. Sundial Building, Shandong, China 

Completed in 2010 for the 4th World Solar Cities Conference, this sundial-shaped building in China’s Shandong Province has 50,000 square-feet of solar panels on its exterior. And it’s just as impressive on the inside, offering 807,293 square feet of mixed use space with multiple exhibition centers, scientific research facilities, and a hotel.

But what really makes this building stand out is its incredible energy efficiency. Thanks to its incredible solar panel installation, the conference center is almost entirely powered by renewable energy and is approximately 30% more efficient than China’s national standard.

2. Turanor PlanetSolar boat

The Turanor PlanetSolar yacht is a marvel of design and energy efficiency. Designed by LOMOcean Design, the 100 foot long catamaran is the world’s largest solar vessel and is covered in 5,300 square feet of photovoltaic solar panels for a total of 38,000 individual solar cells.

Developed to show that solar power is more than just a gimmick, the ship has set numerous world records. In May 2012, the ship became the first-ever solar electric vehicle to circumnavigate the globe and recently broke its own trans-Atlantic crossing record – topping its original journey of 26 days in only 22 days, 12 hours, and 32 minutes.

Oh, and it’s name means “power of the sun” is taken from J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. You can’t get much cooler than that.

3. Nevada Solar One and Copper Mountain Solar Facility

In Las Vegas, Nevada, the philosophy is “go big, or go home.” Interestingly, the same can be said about two of the state’s most high-profile solar facilities. Located in Boulder City, just 25 miles from Las Vegas, Nevada Solar One and Copper Mountain Solar Facility are two of the largest solar power plants in the United States, and represent the tremendous impact that solar power can have as a renewable energy source.

Spread over more than 400 acres, the 64 MW Nevada Solar One plant powers more than 14,000 homes every year and is the third-largest concentrating solar power plant in the world.

Copper Mountain’s 775,000 thin-film photovoltaic solar panels produce 58MW of power, enough for more than 17,000 average homes. And the facility is still growing. An expansion was begun in 2010, which will bring more than 200 MW online, and two additional expansions are planned to be complete by 2013 (92MW) and 2015 (58MW).

Which is great news if you’re a gambler. After all, somebody has to keep those Sin City slot machines powered, right?

4. Kaohsiung National Stadium, Taiwan

Without a doubt, the Kaohsiung National Stadium in Taiwan is one of the world’s most stunning solar-powered buildings. Designed by legendary Japanese architect Toyo Ito to coincide with the opening of the 2009 World Games, the stadium is the largest solar-powered stadium in the world. And just like the athletes who compete there, it combines power and grace in a way that is completely awe-inspiring.

The roof of the stadium is covered by 8,844 solar panels, which generate 1.14 million kWh of electricity every year and provide 75% of the needed electricity for the stadium. Oh, and did we mention that it’s shaped like a dragon? Yeah, you can’t get much cooler than that.

5. CIS Tower, Manchester

The CIS Tower in Manchester is a great example of how solar technology can bring an old building into the 21st century. The skyscraper, which was originally constructed in the 1960s, became a safety risk because tiles would regularly fall from the building’s mosaics. After more than 40 years of ducking these flying projectiles, CIS decided to give its building a fresh live look, and in the mid 2000s, covered the entire south exterior wall with more than 7,000 solar panels.

These solar panels, which represent the largest solar array in the UK and the largest vertical solar array in Europe, generate 180,000 units of electricity each year – or the equivalent amount of energy needed to power 61 homes for a year. As they say in the UK, “jolly good show.”

As we work together to meet the energy challenges of the future, we should take inspiration in all of these projects. Whether it’s their beauty, their function, or their sheer size, each one of these solar installations proves that being “green” doesn’t have to mean being boring.