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The Path and Mission of the Solar-Powered Plane

The Solar Impulse has been compared to a giant wooden toy airplane. It is able to fly both day and night just on the power of the sun. The Solar Impulse, with its two pilots, has been flying across the US in sections on its Across America mission in order to bring awareness on clean renewable energy to the American public. Since the start of its 45 day flight from San Francisco to Washington (so far), it has gained much attention from its fans around the world, including Ernest Moniz, the US Energy Secretary.

The Solar Impulse aims to show the possibilities of more effient cars and buildings. iStockphoto.com©Steve Jacobs

The Solar Impulse aims to show the possibilities of more effient cars and buildings. iStockphoto.com©Steve Jacobs

Moniz, head of the US Department of Energy recently praised the efforts and innovation of the solar plane. He stated that the Solar Impulse will not alter the way society flies but rather it raised new possibilities for the buildings people live in and the cars they travel with. Andre Borschberg, the CEO and one of the pilots of Solar Impulse also agreed, stating that this light-weight technology will really be beneficial “on the ground.” It can lead to cleaner appliances, greener cars, and more energy efficient buildings. As airplanes only produce about 3% of the world’s greenhouse gases, the true potential for solar energy and new clean technologies are located on earth, rather than the sky.

The light weight technology could prove essential to making solar energy cheaper. The Solar Impulse implemented light-weight carbon fiber and lighter solar cells which could be used on rooftops to help decrease costs. The plane is installed with 11,000 solar cells including 10,746 on the long wing that reaches almost 65 metres. Its wingspan is that of a jumbo jet but it weighs only 3500 pounds, the weight of a small car. With this flight, Borschberg also wants to promote solar energy, better batteries, light weight materials, and the possibilities of integrating all three.

At the beginning of the project, just ten years ago, Borschberg was told that his idea was impossible to execute. Now, the project is a 13 year privately funded European project with an expected cost of $150 million USD. Last year, the airplane made the trek from Switzerland to Morocco. Most recently it flew from St. Louis to Cincinnati to Washington. Its final trip will be in two weeks to New York City, ending a trip that began in San Francisco. There are possibilities that by 2015, an updated version of the plane will make a trip around the world. Hopefully, its mission to bring awareness and innovation to clean energy and to the American public will be just as successful as renewable energy continues to become increasingly popular around the world.

Like his predecessor, Steven Chu, Moniz is also an advocate of renewable energy. He believes that solar energy is quite a competitive market and pursuing it will be essential for the American economy and community. There have been many people, mostly right wing politicians, against Obama’s use of federal stimulus money for solar firms. American solar firms like European firms have been filing for bankruptcy due to the import of cheap Chinese solar panels. As solar panel prices drop, the industry will once again shift and the industry is all eagerly waiting to see what will happen.

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