Swiss team unveil pioneering solar plane

Swiss scientist-adventurer and pilot Bertrand Piccard gestures as he unveils the 'Solar Impulse' airplane
Swiss scientist-adventurer and pilot Bertrand Piccard gestures as he unveils the 'Solar Impulse' airplane during a ceremony on June 26, 2009 in Duebendorf near Zurich. Piccard's solar-powered plane and the Solar Impulse team are aiming to demonstrate that reliance on renewable energy is not a pipedream.

Round-the-world balloooning pioneer Bertrand Piccard unveiled his solar-powered aircraft in Switzerland on Friday, ready for another trend-setting circumnavigation of the globe powered solely by the sun.

The wasp-shaped prototype of Solar Impulse, with the wingspan of a jumbo jet, was rolled out before some 800 guests at an airfield near Zurich after six years of development.

Ten years after Piccard and Briton Brian Jones achieved the first non-stop flight around the globe in the Orbiter balloon, the Solar Impulse team are aiming to demonstrate that reliance on renewable energy is not a pipedream.

"If an aircraft is able to fly day and night without fuel, propelled solely by solar energy, let no one come and claim that it is impossible to do the same thing for motor vehicles, heating and air conditioning systems and computers," Piccard said.

Although have been tried out, the prototype HB-SIA will make its maiden by the end of this year.

Its mission is to test the feasibility of a complete flight sequence through two days and one night, propelled only by solar energy, and pave the say for a second aircraft's bid to fly around the world in five stages in 2012.

The Swiss adventurer -- who is again joined by Jones -- said the idea emerged after that 19 day hot air balloon trip, when Orbiter was partly kept aloft by fuel canisters even if the wind ensured its progress eastwards.

"That historic success could have turned sour because of the lack of fuel," Piccard said at the Dubendorf airfield.

"That's why we took the decision to to attempt a trip around the world without relying on fossil fuels," he explained.

The seemingly flimsy carbon fibre concentrate of new technology has a 63.4 metre wingspan but weighs little more than a medium sized car.

Some 12,000 spread over its slender wings are meant to keep it aloft, fuelling four tiny ten horsepower electric motors and 400 kilogrammes of batteries that are, unusually, meant to keep it going overnight.

Wedged in the narrow cockpit, the lone pilot will also be helped to fly Solar Impulse by some novel control technology.

"Those are the wings of hope. They are immense, as is the challenge we have to meet in climate protection," said Swiss Transport, Energy and Environment Minister Moritz Leunberger.

(c) 2009 AFP

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Jun 26, 2009
Doug your pretty lame

Jun 26, 2009
My home is solar powered. My electric meter runs backwards. My electric bill for last month was $12.00. It's only a matter of time before this technology becomes the standard rather than the novelty.

Jun 26, 2009
My home is solar powered. My electric meter runs backwards.

That's because you're being subsidized.

You're using the powerlines twice yet you're not paying for it twice, you're paying for it zero times. Distribution is a larger part of the cost on your electrical bill than generation.

You're producing electricity that cannot be expected to meet any of the reliability or timing constraints all other power-sources on the grid have to meet; the power company has to do this for you by increasing spinning reserve and the number of single cycle gas turbines on the grid. This to is a service you ought to pay for by getting a lower price for your electricity.

By timing constraints I mean that your solar power will be entirely wasted if there if demand is currently being met on the grid. This is an additional subsidy since thanks to net metering your electricity always fetches a price even when it is a liability to the grid(e.g. see west region of ERCOT in Texas where wind farms frequently pay ERCOT to take accept their electricity because there's already an oversupply and it's harder to throttle the coal plants than it is to throttle the wind farms).

Likely the capital cost of your panels was subsidized as well.

Jun 26, 2009
As for your electric meter, how are you paying money for a meter that's running backwards? Sounds as though you're either not aware that meters cannot run backwards, even if you're feeding the grid, or you're being sensationalist.

There are countries where the government has mandated net-metering. You can put junk power into the grid, neither dispatchable, baseload or even predictable and have your electrical meter run backwards.

This is of course an enormous subsidy since the power you're paying for is dispatchable; it comes on the moment you hit a power switch, even if you draw several kilowatt for a welder or something; for each kWh negated with net metering you end up paying zero times for using the powerlines even though you should be paying twice.

If you force the utilities to accept such a raw deal, it's no skin of their backs, they'll just raise the rates on everyone else.

Jun 26, 2009
I like solar power and agree with the rolling sheet technology featured in Popular Science's DEC2007 article saying "solar Salvation p.101". But the glider is flying at what altitude? I would much rather be trying to attempt a space flight for another earth planet than fly in a solar powered glider that costs as much to mass produce on this planet.

Jun 26, 2009
possibly inspired by the HELIOS, that NASA and Paul MacCready were developing 2000~2003?
HELIOS achieved record altitudes (3.2km higher than previous record!) and could stay in flight for months.


weighed 1,322 pounds and could carry a payload of up to 726 pounds
cruising speed was only ~30km/h but it wasnt designed for speed.
i wonder how fast the Solar Impulse will be , compared to a boeing 757's 850km/h.

Paul MacCready and AeroVironment also created incredible human powered/bicycle aircrafts that flew over the english channel in 1979.

could imagine small hybrids of solar/hydrogen cell/ human powered aircrafts.

Jun 27, 2009

It's not a glider but a lightly loaded, low powered aircraft. If it glided the props would create drag so they should always be powered or range would suffer. I think Piccard and his father, first to the deepest ocean, should be cheered for their pioneering work.
Older style mechanical meters can run backward as long as the house is producing more power than needed.
Those who say solar is not reliable are off base as solar normally happens at peak power needs so is worth more than normal grid power. Any RE cuts fossil fuel use which is a great thing in so many ways.
As for subsidies you don't think coal, oil is subsidized? Both are by as much as they cost. For instance I can't eat fish because if I do more than 1/week I'll get mercury poisoning as a reporter ate 2 fish meals and his mercury levels went 50% above max levels. This come directly from coal burning and costs me $50-100/month. And that is just one example.
I lived 25 yrs on my sailboat making my own electricity mostly by wind and tidal power on units I built myself. Doing it for a home is no big deal, in fact the smart way as fossil fuels are going up in price while RE is dropping. If fossil fuels had their full cost in them RE instead of in our income taxes, health costs, ect would by far be the low cost energy source.

Jun 28, 2009
Unlike Picard says this really does not apply to motor vehicles. Look at the plane, it's wingspan is huge, mostly to have enough space for solar panels to generate to power the few low horsepower propellers. To have a car that gives reasonable power you would need nearly high (something like 80%) efficiency solar cells to generate enough power to transport people comfortably. Unlike the Solar Challenge cars which can only seat one person very uncomfortably.
The whole concept of solar panels on cars seem nonsensical to me. It's better to have solar farms and charge battery cars.

Jun 29, 2009
What about if they put a cover over all highways and made the covers out of solar panels. Jsu think of all the real estate.

Power lines already run along the highways, so the main power lines could get much smaller since you are using the power very close to the source and don't have to transport it very far.

What's this nonsense about useing the power lines twice? Do you need to get uncharged electrons, power them up and then send them to the neighbors????

No. You use the power lines once and only once. The only place that is different is the mains line to your neighborhood supplies less current.

You are right about the power plant having to deal with rapidly fluctuating power sources, but they do that already. What happens if all the AC's in a neighborhood kick off at the same time? That would be the same to deal with as a whack of wind generators all start generating at the same time.

I don't know where these ideas come from.

Jun 29, 2009

As for your electric meter, how are you paying money for a meter that's running backwards? Sounds as though you're either not aware that meters cannot run backwards, even if you're feeding the grid, or you're being sensationalist. I'll give you a pass on either. That is unless your electric company is using a meter type I'm unaware of and never ran across in my research on how to take my home off grid.

Wrong, meters do run backwards.

Jul 03, 2009

Surface area of all the cites/towns/hovels/roads/highways/etc adds up to about 1% of the Earth's surface according to recent statistics. How accurate that is I don't know, but even if it was off by 10%, you couldn't generate enough power for all people with total solar penetration. The efficiencies are far too low. The technology isn't mature enough to function as a primary grid supplier.

No... not as a primary grid, but to use for peak power or to use for intermittant use. Lets say it's 100 degrees today. The solar panels make gobs of extra energy and cool your house to 70 all day. When the sun goes down it will still take some time for you to need any AC. If fact you probably wont need it all night.

All those hybred cars that are parked all over the city? Well hey! They could all use a top up of that last 15% of their battery capacity, and maybe we want them to be cooled for when we get in them too.

Or maybe we could test out that new supercollider that takes the power of 2 large cities when we have gobs of extra power?

I'm not talking about replacing primary grid, I'm talking about knocking the top off the peak power load.

Start thinking for a moment and you'll find all kinds of ways to conserve baseload when you have gobs of cheap/free intermittant energy, and that's even before you think of battery storage.

What do you use electricity for. Where is it used. What for? Can any of those things be done in the afternoon instead of when you want it to? Clothes drying/washing... water heating... house cooling... pool heating... All of these could be set on a timer and happen automatically when the energy is free. You don't need them to come on the instant you tell it to.... sometimes you do, but most often not.

And we're not talking about covering the entire earths surface. We only need the area that a trillion dollars of solar panels would cover each year.

Trust me. Let people know that you need to waste energy once/day and people will find a way to use it.

Jul 03, 2009
Using solar to power urine hydrogen electrolysis of the days household waste or waste extracted while driving to work in the morning while the car is sitting all day in the sun to provide a hybrid power source for backup energy supply when the batteries get low would decrease our reliance on fossil fuels and grid based power for charging our cars over night.

Combined with solar heating, solar powered aircon and battery backup we would have all the resources needed to power a household. Get the household to contribute back to the grid when it has energy overflows and the community becomes the power generator.

The power station can run at lower capacity as a backup to handle sudden spikes and on grid needs. Hence burning even less fossil fuel and decreasing pollution.

What is the problem here? Efficiency is not currently being achieved but we are in a position to make it possible in the near future.

Jul 03, 2009
Solar powered cars which store energy while sitting and convert waste or water to hydrogen for hybrid energy backup, solar powered hydrogen electrolysis using waste water stored in chicken feature tanks, solar heating, solar powered aircon, Solar battery backup.

Reduce the strain on the grid and the power station can reduce capacity. Feed back overflow from the home to the grid and further reduce power station capacity at specific times of day. Use smart grid metering to provide real time data on household contributions to the grid supply to fine tune burn rates at the power station.

All of these things reduce our use of fossil fuels in the long term.

However in the short term it increases our use by making massive energy demands for production of hardware and software to meet the infrastructure requirements for the new system.

Still it keeps people employed and trade booming and makes a change for the better instead of continuing to accept the status quo.

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