Solar Impulse and the future of air travel

The solar impulse plane flying

The future of the flying kangaroo?

Peak oil has either hit us, or is likely to arrive any time soon depending on the report or opinion you read. The scarcity of this resource (and the undoubted price gouges that will accompany its dive down the supply curve) will force policymakers to completely rethink the way our economy’s energy needs are structured as the resource that has driven our lives since the Industrial Revolution rapidly dries out. So, solar energy innovation anyone?

A bold and brash statement to start this week’s column readers? Harsh but fair? However your columnist was reminded that a move towards renewable energy such as solar power is not only desirable to help reduce emissions to save the planet, but it is also very much part of the equation to replace scarce fossil fuels resources such as oil.

So what was the catalyst for this philosophical rush to the head? Simply the news that the first leg of the transcontinental flight of the $115 million, Swiss-developed, solar-powered plane the Solar Impulse had been completed successfully. This was the journey from Switzerland to Madrid as the first part of a flight to Morocco (“a small step for Solar Impulse, a giant leap for Mankind” to paraphrase Neil Armstrong).

The first transcontinental flight by the Impulse, which has the wing span of a jumbo jet, is the next stage towards the Swiss team’s goal of an around-the-world solar-powered flight to be attempted in 2014.

If you are a regular traveller by air, particularly one living so far away from the rest of the world, you may feel a pang of guilt every time you hear the engines roar for take off, spewing high velocity rocket fuel into the atmosphere. So will the near future see the development of solar-powered jet airliners based on prototypes like the Swiss Solar Impulse?

Imagine the smooth takeoff and landing using power only from our sun? And most of all knowing that your flight has (a) had minimal impact on the environment (b) used none of our rapidly depleting fossil fuels and (c) has none of that environmental “guilt” factor associated with flying.

Now if they could just fix the baggage handling sites.

It appears solar innovation is on the march in Europe with technological innovation, political will and a kind of latter day Wright Brothers spirit which may result in air travellers using the power of the sun to get them from A to B. Further information about the flight, photos and the plane’s specifications can be found at the Solar Impulse’s lively and informative Facebook Page. I’m assuming that further details can be found at the company’s website, though your correspondent has had limited success in accessing this, hopefully due to the site crashing through overuse!

Good luck to the Solar Impulse team from all of us here at

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