Think about how there is a bad storm as your plane takes off, but soon you rise above the clouds, you see the bright sun through your window. Airplanes and solar energy make sense because no matter what the weather is like, aircraft will reach an altitude that will give it access to solar energy. By adding solar panels to airplanes and making them ever more efficient in harnessing the sun’s energy, solar planes can one day eclipse traditional planes in speed and capacity.
In fact, solar planes are already up and running even though they are not mainstream yet. We are in the beginning stages of developing this technology and it has a long way to advance before it can become commercialized. In the summer of 2016, the solar-powered plane Solar Impulse 2 flew around the globe and landed in Abu Dhabi. Its wings are longer than a Boeing 747’s, decked with over 17,000 solar cells to capture the sun’s rays. This was a 23-day journey that crossed both major oceans. This is just the first step in a long road ahead for the development of solar planes.
Developing this technology is crucial for our environmental future. The Solar Impulse has a maximum speed of just 140 km/h, making an 8,000km journey lasting about 5-6 days whereas for a jet fuel-powered airplane it would take only 17 hours. Obviously, consumers are still going to choose the quicker flight over being environmentally conscious. In addition, the Solar impulse’s body is very small, only able to accommodate one passenger while a typical Boeing 747 can carry over 500.
Proving that is possible for a solar powered plane to cross the skies is a feat in itself. There may be issues to iron out like increasing passenger capacity, speed, and making the plane stronger against turbulence, but the fact that a solar plane has gone around the world is astounding. Though it was not the goal of the Solar Impulse to make solar flights mainstream (it was to merely show the capabilities of solar power), I believe that we will have a future with more efficient and powerful solar planes that will replace our current planes. It will just take research, funding, and dedicated bright minds!