Solar power is a technology with extraordinary potential. With all the advances in efficiency, cost, energy storage, and flexibility – and cells improving seemingly every day – you can put solar on practically anything. Houses? Duh. Schools? It’s elementary. Boats? Why not! So, when it comes to air travel and solar energy, let’s just say the sky is no longer the limit.
Here are three ways solar is taking to the sky – and getting the last laugh on those pesky clouds.
1. Solar-Powered Airports
What was once speculation a few years ago (Solar Airports? It Could Happen) has become a full-blown trend today. And the location of the world’s first all-solar airport may be a surprise: Cochin International Airport in Kochi, India, where renewables have really taken off and power 100 percent of the airport’s operations. How? Well it all started with a pilot project (pun intended) that really took wings.
Meanwhile in the United States, the world record holder for the largest solar installation at an airport is in a city more known for its fast cars – Indianapolis, Indiana.
With 17.5 MW, Indianapolis International Airport has the largest solar farm at any airport worldwide. With all those enviable megawatts, the energy helps power the surrounding homes and businesses in addition to parts of the airport operations. Other major airports in the United States with solar farms include Denver, Fresno, Tampa, FL, Minneapolis, and San Jose, and more. Other airports have integrated solar energy into their day-to-day operations by powering parking facilities and utilizing smaller-scale solar arrays.
We don’t have to wait for every airport to go solar for climate action to take root. The aviation industry has already committed to reduce its carbon emissions, develop cleaner technology, and improve efficiency.
2. Solar Powered Airplanes
So you packed your bags at your solar-paneled home, arrived at the airport in your electric car, and charged your phone using solar power from an airport’s solar farm while you were waiting to board. But what about that plane?
Just as solar airports were once just a prediction, you may be embarking onto a solar-powered airplane in the not-so-distant future.
The Solar Impulse 2 has already flown halfway around the world using only the power of the sun. No fuel, no oil, just solar power from wing to wing. And starting in April, it will finish its round the world journey.
You know what’s really fly about Solar Impulse 2? The flight doesn’t stop when the sun goes down. Solar Impulse 2’s batteries charge up in the sunlight and store energy to power the plane long after sunset. In fact, it flew for five days and five nights straight en route from Nagoya, Japan to Hawaii, USA.
That record-breaking flight was possible because the plane doesn’t need to refuel in the traditional sense, by landing and filling its tanks with more fossil fuels. In theory, the plane could travel forever – charging up its batteries during the day with the power of the sun, then using its reserve power all night.
But that’s not to say the technology is perfect – yet. After a long, perilous flight across the Pacific, the plane’s batteries overheated. Contrary to what you might expect, that was no reason to scrap the trip – the solar plane will be flying high again soon, as the crew is repairing the batteries and installing a new cooling system. With testing beginning now, the next liftoff is anticipated in April.
This high-tech plane is proving that we can transition away from fossil fuels in nearly every facet of our modern lives with solar, from our routines at home to daily car commuting to long-distance and eye-opening travel. We can take a shine to that.
3. What’s Next: Electricity by Drone
They deliver pizzas; they deliver your Amazon orders; and they even delivered some surprising footage of someone sunbathing on top of a wind turbine. The next big thing for drones to deliver is electricity. Yes, solar power itself is taking to the skies, thanks to the combination of drone technology and home solar.
In remote areas and developing countries, solar energy offers a way to provide electricity to power lights, refrigerators, computers, and mobile phones – leapfrogging the need for fossil fuels, mega-grids, and power plants. It’s no wonder home solar is taking off in Africa. Once these areas are electrified, however, some infrastructure challenges still remain. Delivering a small package can be just too expensive and time-consuming when it means getting a truck through miles of rough terrain.
That’s why many companies are exploring drone delivery to get the job done. In areas where the power grid has been leapfrogged by home solar, solar-powered drones can be the final link in the supply chain, safely and reliably depositing orders directly to consumers — no roads or fossil fuels necessary. Each rooftop panel could become a charging station for delivery drones. The drones can make deliveries throughout a region while stopping to recharge on homes with charging stations connected to solar panels. Without having to go back to its home base, the deliveries are faster, more efficient, and cheaper. Plus, the customers get credit for the power that the drones sip from their panels.
>> If you’re ready for a future powered by clean, renewable energy, download our free Solar Myths e-book now to learn how solar energy can not only meet our energy needs, but can even help solve the climate crisis. <<
Is Your Head in the Clouds?
It might seem like we have our head in the clouds. These three ideas, however, show that when we make the choice to switch to renewable energy, the possibilities are sky-high. What would you rather dream about: a future on a hotter, more polluted planet – or one full of wonder and the possibility of new renewable energy technologies?
That’s the thing with solar energy. Even with two feet on the ground, we can still reach the sky.
Image © Solar Impulse | Revillard | Rezo.ch