The renewable world has once again dipped its toes in the pool of opportunity by flying a solar-powered aeroplane across the globe. This is a huge step for the industry and is proof to the world that there is possibility for a completely sustainable future. If something as heavy and fuel demanding as a plane can run on solar energy, then the possibilities really do seem endless.
Two Swiss pilots flew the plane together for 5 days in total across the Pacific Ocean. They only slept 20 minutes a time, which was a challenge in itself considering the cockpit had no heating or air conditioning and needed to be constantly monitored for communication from base control. The plane began its journey in Abu Dhabi, before stopping at Oman, Myanmar, China, Japan and Hawaii and finally landing in Silicon Valley, just south of San Francisco.
"We have demonstrated it is feasible to fly many days, many nights that the technology works"
The logic behind this project is proving to the world it is absolutely possible to power a plane for up to 5 days using solar power alone. However, the project wasn’t without its fair share of implications. In a test flight in July last year, Solar Impulse 2 was forced to land in Hawaii due to a battery failure caused by heat damage. They also had to divert to Japan on the way to Hawaii due to a wing being damaged.
According to the website tracking the journey of the plane, (http://www.solarimpulse.com/) Bertrand Piccard’s vision was to discover clean technologies, starting with the everyday things we take for granted, but have a huge effect on the environmental future of our planet and reduce the amount of emissions these means of transport produce.
The plane averages at a flight speed of 28 mph, however this all depends on the strength of the sun’s rays and can sometimes be double this. The Solar Impulse 2’s wings span a width considerably wider than your average Boeing 747, due to the 17,000 solar cells attached to them. These provide solar power for the propellers and charge the plane’s batteries. The remaining power generated is stored for the night time, where there is of course no sunlight. The project is predicted to cost over 100 million US dollars.
The transition into power substitutes was never going to be a popular one to begin with. In terms of practicality and efficiency until more research and innovation is conducted, these ideas (although proved to be functional) are less time effective than the systems currently running on fuel and therefore high emissions. It will be interesting to see how the outcome of this project enables Solar Impulse 2 to influence world leaders on the possibilities of solar powered means of transport.
The plane is due to make a further three pit stops across various areas of Europe and/or Africa, starting this week, but this all rests on the weather conditions.
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