What would a world powered by solar energy look like? “The Energy Show — Sun, Solar and Human Power” is an exhibition that seeks to answer this question. The display opened up at the Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in early September and will run until March 5, 2023.

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A yellow, floating orb that is suspended in a space overlooking an interior balcony

The Energy Show exhibition is part of The Solar Biennale and is curated by designer and curator Matylda Krzykowski, who wanted to highlight new, innovative, solar-powered projects. The Biennale takes a critical approach to the use of solar energy and how it can be used for social, environmental, and economic sustainability. It aims to look beyond basic solar panels as a one-size-fits-all option and understand how context-specific solutions can help shape a post-fossil fuel future.

Related: 26-year-old engineer plans to make solar energy at night

Elderly woman wearing sunglasses peering closely at a framed image in the exhibition

The exhibition features projects by researchers and designers from around the world to show vast solar-based explorations in a variety of contexts. Each project harnesses solar energy as a renewable resource to power technology or assist with daily tasks.

Knitted sweater with a decorative sequin and solar cell pattern

The Solar Shirt is one of the many projects featured at the exhibition. Created by Pauline van Dongen, the shirt can generate up to 1.5 watts of electricity through 120 thin-film solar cells woven into the textile. This electricity can be used immediately to charge handheld USB-compatible devices for a few hours or stored in the front pocket’s battery pack for later use. Its aesthetic appeal and durability make it practical as a stylish piece of clothing that can be worn regularly.

Off-white cabinet with various glass items sitting on three shelves

In 2012, Marjan van Aubel designed The Energy Collection. The project features solar glassware integrated with solar cells that absorb energy from its surroundings. Each object contains a layer of Dye Sensitised Solar Cells that use color to create varying electrical currents. This energy is then transferred to the storage cabinet where the glassware sits. However, this is no ordinary cabinet. The fixture is specifically designed with the glassware to store the energy captured by each piece. Once loaded with energy, the cabinet serves as a battery to charge or power appliances.

Plastic yellow case that has a solar cell and some medical equipment

Another intriguing solar-powered invention is the Solar Suitcase, produced by We Care Solar. The company was founded by an American OBGYN called Laura Satchel who worked in Nigeria. During her time there, she came to understand the struggles of having to perform medical procedures with an unreliable electricity supply. If she was lucky, she would perform life-saving surgeries by torchlight. Unfortunately, most surgeries were delayed until the electricity returned, threatening the lives of expectant mothers and their fetuses. She created the Solar Suitcase as a low-maintenance, portable solution to provide solar energy for health professionals. Besides the solar cell, the kit contains batteries, LED lights, USB ports and other accessories to fully equip healthcare workers.

A solar cooker that resembles a satellite dish in front of a table that is displaying a variety of small objects

Lastly, the Solar Cooker is also featured in the exhibition. Solar cookers often look a lot like satellite dishes, as they use their curved metal contour to concentrate and magnify solar energy onto a fixed cooking area. Since the cookers do not require fuel or have additional operative costs, they are extremely versatile. They also reduce air pollution and serve as a low-cost option for marginalized communities.

By showcasing these solar-powered projects to the public, The Solar Biennale aims to create awareness and inspire through The Energy Show. The hope is to educate and encourage other innovators to harness the sun’s energy to create new fossil-fuel-free solutions.

+ Het Nieuwe Instituut, The Solar Biennale

Images courtesy of the Het Nieuwe Instituut