Giant solar energy balloons may offer a cheap way to provide electricity to areas lacking the land and infrastructure needed for traditional power systems, according to researchers in Israel.
Edison International's Southern California Edison utility said it planned to build the largest photovoltaic solar system in the US at 250 megawatts, enough for 162,000 homes.
Analysts said with many of the earth's sunniest spots found in the middle of the ocean or desert, the Technion Institute of Technology-designed balloons could be used to harness the sun's energy in those remote areas.
The helium-filled balloons would be covered with thin solar panels and would be placed a few hundred metres in the air.
They would be connected to a wire cable to an inverter, which converts the electricity.
Pini Gurfil, the balloon developer, said the project needed about a year more of development.
"The balloons have no carbon footprint or negative impact on the environment," Mr Gurfil added.
"Helium is a naturally occurring gas and environment-friendly. The system saves land from being occupied as well as resources like glass and metal used in ground-based solar energy systems."
John Loughhead, executive director at the UK Energy Research Centre, said the solar balloon system was practical but only in a few specific circumstances.
The 'clean energy market' was worth nearly $150 billion last year.
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