In Madurodam, a miniature Dutch town located in the Hague, everything is one twenty-fifth its normal size—but as a model of energy efficiency for the rest of the world, this theme park is huge. In honor of Madurodam's 50th birthday last year, Shell Solar helped it become the world's first solar "city," installing sun-powered windmills and streetcars and an exhibit where visitors can actually watch panels convert daylight into electricity.
Since 1975, Shell Oil's solar division has been experimenting with such projects in 90 countries—most recently developing portable solar power for the semi-nomadic Uighur and Kazakh tribes in remote northwest China. As part of the Silk Route project, 3,000 dwellings will receive 25-watt solar panels this year. The panels, designed to withstand the harsh weather in these rugged areas, can be assembled in five minutes and provide enough energy to run two lamps and a radio—in other words, they're a renewable source of light and contact with the outside world. Someday, you could be seeing full-scale solar cities around the globe.