Not my photo. Belongs to © Solar Impulse / Jean Revillard.

Solar Aeroplane!

Not my photo. Belongs to © Solar Impulse / Jean Revillard.

Not my photo. Belongs to © Solar Impulse / Jean Revillard.

I have good news today!

Yesterday I read about Solar Impulse, the American-owned solar aeroplane that can fly all the way through day and night powered purely by the sun’s rays. It flew from one side of the USA to the other yesterday, and the next big challenge is to fly all around the world in 2015. It converts 20% of the sun’s incoming rays into clean electricity, from the solar cells which cover it’s entire wingspan. The Solar Impulse website says it’s not the first aeroplane to employ solar technology, but it’s certainly the most ambitious to date, and the first to be able to fly through the night. This is possible because the energy generated in the day is able to be stored, a technology which wasn’t available not so long ago.

I’ve often thought we need to sort out a new aviation fuel, as the standard one is hugely carbon-heavy and won’t help us meet our carbon-reduction targets any time soon. I wondered about biofuel, but I generally don’t think biofuel’s a great idea. It just seems counter-productive to use loads of land growing crops to turn into ethanol when the space could be used to feed the millions of malnourished people in the world. I also considered electric planes that could be charged up with renewable energy generated on land… But I for some reason I never thought of a plane that generated it’s power as it flies.

I have no idea why I didn’t think solar-powered aeroplanes were a realistic possibility. But it makes perfect sense doesn’t it? Planes usually fly above the clouds so you’re pretty much guaranteed sunlight, and at a higher intensity than the ground receives even on a clear day. It’s perfect!

This has made me really really happy because it basically solves a dilemma I’ve been having. On the one hand, I’m desperate to travel the world, learn about loads of crazy different places and cultures and even travel for work; carving out a career in green media. On the other hand, I don’t want to fly because I can’t justify the huge amounts of pollution caused by aviation. How could I fly around the world writing about environmental issues? What a stupid hypocritical paradox?

Well, thanks to Solar Impulse it looks like I might be able to have my cake and eat it after all.

Bring on the renewable revolution! Bring on the post-carbon future!

~

More information:

Treehugger: http://www.treehugger.com/aviation/solar-impulse-flying-san-francisco-new-york-city-solar-plane.html
Solar Impulse: http://www.solarimpulse.com/en/
The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/video/2013/may/04/solar-powered-aeroplane-lands-phoenix-video

2 thoughts on “Solar Aeroplane!

  1. Tegan, the next generation of aircraft (bearing mind they haven’y changed for decades in reality!) could well be as ‘graphene’ is developed. This material is so strong ti could be that a whole aeroplane is built from it and the biggest ‘weight’ would be the fuel. And this news was from Prof Brian Cox – who told me when I met him a couple of months ago!

    1. Wow that’s amazing! I’ve just done a quick search on graphene as I didn’t know what it was, and it looks like a pretty incredible material. I expect the decarbonisation of the economy will act as the mother of invention in the next couple of decades, and spark the invention of lots of clever technologies!

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