By: Mike Montgomery
Anyone who thinks even a little about energy is thinking about renewables. According to REN21, new investments in renewable power and fuel climbed from $45 billion in 2004 to $270 billion a decade later.
That makes it an incredibly appealing market for entrepreneurs. The vast majority of that money has been focused on renewable energy that can go into the grid and power our homes and offices. But the Solar Impulse 2, a long, thin plane that is powered completely through the use of solar panels, has shown another side of renewable energy: solar-powered transportation.
Bertrand Piccard, one of two Swiss pilots who have been flying the plane in tandem, sees promise in the new technology. “Today we do not have the technology for a [commercial] solar airplane,” he says. “Nevertheless, it will happen.”
But not anytime soon. “It’s not years away, it’s decades,” adds Tom Werner, the CEO and president of SunPower, the company that manufactured the solar cells for the Solar Impulse 2.
Werner explains that when developing solar-powered transportation, you need to consider cost, weight and efficiency. Although the Solar Impulse 2 shows that it’s possible to power a vehicle solely from mounted solar cells, today the challenges for a typical passenger car or commercial airplane far outstrip any benefits. For example, in order to drive 200 miles a day only on solar power, a typical passenger car would need 10 times as many solar cells than would fit onto that car’s roof.