Solar Solars: First Solar Aircraft Circumnavigates World
According to The Guardian, the last leg of the journey from Cairo to Abu Dhabi proved the aircraft’s resilience and strength, as solo pilot Bertrand Piccard, manned the controls through the turbulent, hot desert air.
The Swiss-engineered Solar Impulse 2 boasts a wingspan “wider than a Boeing 747,” while weighing the same as an SUV, hosts over 17,000 solar cells on its wings (The Guardian). The cells are so powerful that the plane can even take off using its own solar energy. In addition, as shown on the flight path below, the aircraft navigated both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans without fossil fuels. They were able to maximize solar power by climbing to 29,000 feet during the day, and conserve power by shifting to 5,000 feet at night. According to The Guardian, the plane currently flies at about 30 mph, with an increased speed while exposed to intense sunlight.
Upon landing, Piccard was overwhelmed with emotion. He told The Guardian’s reporters: “I hope people will understand that it is not just a first in the history of aviation, but also a first in the history of energy… All the clean technologies we use, they can be used everywhere. So we have flown 40,000km, but now it is up to other people to take it further. It is up to every person in a house to take it further, every head of state, every mayor in a city, every entrepreneur or CEO of a company…These technologies now can make the world much better and we have to use them, not only for the environment, but also because they are profitable and create jobs.”
The privately financed project developed for 13 years under the leadership of Piccard and Bertrand Borschberg. Their primary mission from idea to fruition was to bring global attention to the potential of clean technologies by circumnavigating the world powered entirely by renewable energy.
The flight was not without its glitches. While crossing China, the pilots encountered strong crosswinds that caused delays. And then overheating batteries forced the team to winter in Hawaii.
But do we remember the first “car phone?” Our first TiVo or our first IPhone? Technologies are ever-evolving, improving, and growing in scale. The Solar Impulse 2 model will be no different.
However – Piccard and Borschberg’s journey is not merely to mass-produce more efficient planes. Their mission is to push the public to realize just how powerful and reliable solar energy is.
The 2041 Foundation is also planning a crazy statement on renewable energy. Sir Robert Swan, whom I joined for the 2016 International Antarctic Expedition, will be leading a team of four to walk for 60 days to South Pole, relying solely on renewable energy to survive during the journey. The mission is called the South Pole Energy Challenge, and will take place December 2017. “If alternative fuel sources can work in the most inhospitable palce on the palnet, they can work anyway,” Robert says. The 2041 Foundation is currently working with NASA to develop specialized solar panels that can withstand frigid temperatures, and continue producing energy during spans without direct sunlight.
People are flying around the world. People are walking to the bottom of the Earth - just to prove that renewable energy works!
If renewable energy can endure 26 days in flight, and katabatic Antarctic winds, imagine the potential within our own–comparatively much more stable–grids. With the impacts of climate change continuing to increase in frequency and severity, time is of the essence.
We need to help solar continue to soar by supporting policies that encourage renewable energy within our grid systems, and transitioning from fossil fuels to cleaner industries.