Development of a solar powered car has been an engineering goal since the 1980s. The World Solar Challenge is a biannual solar-powered car race, where teams from universities and enterprises compete over 3,021 kilometres (1,877 mi) across central Australia from Darwin to Adelaide. In 1987, when it was founded, the winner's average speed was 67 kilometres per hour (42 mph) and by 2007 the winner's average speed had improved to 90.87 kilometres per hour (56.46 mph). The North American Solar Challenge and the planned South African Solar Challenge are comparable competitions that reflect an international interest in the engineering and development of solar powered vehicles.
Some vehicles use solar panels for auxiliary power, such as for air conditioning, to keep the interior cool, thus reducing fuel consumption.
In 1975, the first practical solar boat was constructed in England. By 1995, passenger boats incorporating PV panels began appearing and are now used extensively. In 1996, Kenichi Horie made the first solar powered crossing of the Pacific Ocean, and the sun21 catamaran made the first solar powered crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in the winter of 2006–2007. There are plans to circumnavigate the globe in 2010.
In 1974, the unmanned AstroFlight Sunrise plane made the first solar flight. On 29 April 1979, the Solar Riser made the first flight in a solar powered, fully controlled, man carrying flying machine, reaching an altitude of 40 feet (12 m). In 1980, the Gossamer Penguin made the first piloted flights powered solely by photovoltaics. This was quickly followed by the Solar Challenger which crossed the English Channel in July 1981. In 1990 Eric Scott Raymond in 21 hops flew from California to North Carolina using solar power. Developments then turned back to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) with the Pathfinder (1997) and subsequent designs, culminating in the Helios which set the altitude record for a non-rocket-propelled aircraft at 29,524 metres (96,864 ft) in 2001. The Zephyr, developed by BAE Systems, is the latest in a line of record-breaking solar aircraft, making a 54-hour flight in 2007, and month-long flights are envisioned by 2010.
A solar balloon is a black balloon that is filled with ordinary air. As sunlight shines on the balloon, the air inside is heated and expands causing an upward buoyancy force, much like an artificially heated hot air balloon. Some solar balloons are large enough for human flight, but usage is generally limited to the toy market as the surface-area to payload-weight ratio is relatively high.
Solar sails are a proposed form of spacecraft propulsion using large membrane mirrors to exploit radiation pressure from the Sun. Unlike rockets, solar sails require no fuel. Although the thrust is small compared to rockets, it continues as long as the Sun shines onto the deployed sail and in the vacuum of space significant speeds can eventually be achieved.
The High-altitude airship (HAA) is an unmanned, long-duration, lighter-than-air vehicle using helium gas for lift, and thin film solar cells for power. The United States Department of Defense Missile Defense Agency has contracted Lockheed Martin to construct it to enhance the Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS). Airships have some advantages for solar-powered flight: they do not require power to remain aloft, and an airship's envelope presents a large area to the Sun.