Time Magazine recently unveiled its Top 50 Inventions of 2009. While many of those inventions are really useful, or very cool, or are destined to save the world, my favorite is one that many of you might overlook.
That is the Dow Powerhouse Solar Shingle, which is basically a solar panel that has been turned into a regular roofing shingle.
Solar panel technology has been around for years, but it's still very rare to see (especially in the Midwest). That's because solar panel installation is prohibitively expensive (frequently over $30,000), requires special installation and takes decades to pay off the original investment.
Plus, normal solar panels are ugly, and (if the owner wants to maintain the curb value of their house) are limited in where they can be installed.
The new solar shingles could solve many of these problems. They'll cost up to 15% less than traditional solar panels and can be installed much more easily. They're small, so homeowners can start with just a few solar shingles and install new ones gradually (instead of taking the costly plunge all at once.) Plus, as you can see from the photo above, they blend right into the roof of the house.
The reason I love this idea so much though is because it means that the solar panel is finally becoming approachable - and that means this innovation is finally about to take off and become really useful.
A new invention can be very cool, such as the new technique for cloning puppies or the Human-Powered vending machine (two other inventions on the list), but until that invention becomes a reality for real people in their everyday life - it's still just a cool science project.