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What You Need to Know about Solar Planes

April 14, 2015

Solar Impulse 2

Photo: Ed Mullin (flickr)

While most people are familiar with solar power for home energy, did you know that solar planes are taking off, quite literally, at this very moment? Yes, the future of air transportation, and a far cleaner and more sustainable option, may depend upon properly utilizing solar panels and energy systems for airplanes.

The Solar Impulse 2 is already in the midst of an entirely solar-powered flight around the world.  It has already successfully completed the start of its journey. However, the entire mission, with planned stops, will take five months to complete.

One of the well known solar energy facts is that the efficiency of solar panels represents a major burden still to overcome. The best solar panel systems available for mass distribution generally top out around 15% efficiency.

This, of course, is a major problem for the potential of solar planes. Aircraft is heavy, and requires a great amount of energy. So how can this be overcome?

The Solar Impulse 2 was designed to conquer these limitations. It weighs only as much as a large car, roughly 5,000 pounds, but yet it has over 17,000 solar cells built into a 236-foot wingspan which is larger than what the behemoth Boeing 747 utilizes.

This represents a perfect example of the type of innovation and new technology which can change the world. Planes and other vehicles can be entirely built upon the ideals of solar panels, rather than retrofitted. That means that the types of planes in the sky in a decade or two may not look much at all like the planes in the sky today. Just as once there were biplanes before there were jets.

Another application for solar planes will be in the field of spacecraft. Already, satellites and space stations function on solar panel. But larger and more powerful arrays could eventually be harnessed to help propel astronauts to Mars and beyond. Meanwhile, there are even space-based solar power concepts which would provide clean, renewable energy to Earth, or even future outposts.

We can’t wait to see what’s in the near future!!

solar plane solar impulse 2

Solar Impulse: 18th Test Flight | © Solar Impulse

 

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