I've been reading the comments on this topic with interest.
I work for a company in Iowa (www.powerfilmsolar.com
) that makes flexible thin-film solar cells for several applications. Many of our products were developed for the U.S. military to provide a reliable, lightweight, flexible alternative other power sources. For example, consider a remote base in Iraq using gas or diesel generators. By using a portable solar powered system for at least some of the electric demand, the need for fuel convoys is reduced (which has several advantages).
We also offer products for backpackers, hikers, and even hams. In fact, PowerWerx recently started to carry our line http://www.powerwerx.com/solar/
Over the past week, we've shipped hundreds of our military products to Haiti where folks can't get power at remote locations by conventional means and getting fuel to generators is not yet reliable.
Solar electricity has definite applications and works well. I'm looking forward to seeing the industry advance in the days ahead.
(Sorry if this sounded like a plug for PowerFilm, but thought I'd offer another view of solar energy).
I agree fully with the value in the applications you described.
It is the right tool for these jobs, and others.