Solar drones: Everything you need to know

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Solar drones are a new gadget within the larger drone market. While drones are commonly used for filming videos, taking pictures from above, or drone racing with friends, drones are also used for commercial or defense purposes.

One of the issues with commercial or defense-oriented drones is their ability to hold a charge for long trips. That's why researchers have been looking towards solar energy as a way to power drones in flight and using solar energy systems to power fleets of drones.

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Any remote-controlled aircraft that flies without a pilot is considered a drone, otherwise known as an uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV). Under this definition, aircraft regarded as drones include anything from small toy helicopters to larger surveillance planes used for military purposes.

Within this category, solar drones are defined as drones that use solar cells powered directly by the sun. Manufacturers looking to build solar drone products that will run as long as possible will typically look for the most lightweight solar solution (such as thin-film products), as the heavier the solar cells are, the more power it will take to keep the drone in the air. Ideally, these solar cells will also have as high efficiency as possible, given that drones will typically have limited surface space available to place solar cells.

Solar drones have been used for mapping, surveillance, remote sensing, and more. Solar drones have also been researched to provide internet access to rural communities. Both Google and Facebook have invested in projects that use solar-powered drones for this purpose, but the projects have since been canceled.

While several issues are associated with flying drones for long periods – such as the risk of the drone losing connectivity with its controller – utilizing solar energy to power a drone can help reduce the need for drones to return to their base for charging. With the right combination of solar technology and storage, a drone has the potential to run for longer distances. This means less time on the ground, regardless of its purpose.

The solar energy used to fuel the drone is also renewable, which means spending less on drawing electricity from the grid to power the drones.

Several solar drone products have been developed in recent years or are currently in development. Here are some examples of solar drones.


Sunbirds, a French company established in 2015, designs and sells solar drones that can travel up to 10+ hours under ideal conditions. Their solar drones fly autonomously but can also be remotely controlled if needed. Sunbirds solar drones have mapping and aerial photography cameras and a 1-year buyer warranty.


AeroVironment, a California-based company, is a leader in UAVs for defense and commercial purposes. In January 2018, the company announced a joint venture with Japanese multinational Softbank to build high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) solar drones for commercial purposes.

This is not the company's first entrance into the solar drone space; AeroVironment created a solar drone in collaboration with NASA known as the Helios Prototype, which reached an altitude of 96,863 ft in 2001. Though not AeroVironment's first time producing the technology, this new venture will be the company's first attempt at building solar drones for commercial sales.

Placing solar cells on drones isn't the only drone technology in research and development. Companies are also considering using solar power to charge a traditional drone fleet. One company developing this type of charging product is Envision Solar.

This California-based company has several other solar products available today, including a solar tree and EV chargers. Now, the company is branching into the solar drone space with the UAV ARC.

The UAV ARC is designed to address distance and range-related issues associated with drone deliveries by acting as a drone charger. Like Envisions EV ARC, the UAV ARC will be completely off-grid and have batteries. This makes the product much more scalable, as it doesn't require a connection to a utility company. This "off-grid" capability allows the chargers to be placed anywhere drone fleets can access and recharge, including remote areas or even at sea.

The UAV ARC will not only be used for charging drone fleets but also to gather intelligence about the health of the solar drones so they can report performance information back to the owners. The UAV ARC is also expected to come with similar warranties to their existing products, which include manufacturer warranties for the panels, batteries, inverter, and the structure itself.

Envision UAV ARC Warranties

Warranty Duration (years)

As of mid 2018, the UAV ARC is still a concept and not currently on the market. However, Envision notes that it’s in an advanced stage of development.

While many toy drones are available on Amazon nowadays, most solar drone technologies are not yet sold publicly – research and testing are still underway. Solar drone products are typically only for military, government, or commercial use.

Even though it's not easy to buy solar drones today, you can still use the sun's power to provide electricity to the drone you own today. A solar panel system in your home or business will help power your drone and other gadgets and appliances. Going solar will help you save money on your electricity bill overall (and the more money you save, the more you'll have to buy new drones!)

If you want to compare costs and savings for a solar installation on your property, sign up on the EnergySage Marketplace. You'll be able to receive and evaluate multiple quotes from reputable, local installers. If you want to start with a quick estimate of the costs and savings of going solar, try our Solar Calculator.

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