The changing face of solar power - Metro US

The changing face of solar power

The sun is their only motor.

That’s what two innovative prototypes have in common, along with the fact that they’re Swiss projects and that, by 2011, they will be taking up the challenge of doing a world tour using no other energy than what our lucky star can supply.

Solar Impulse, by sky, and PlanetSolar, by sea, aspire to become the ambassadors of a green mobility revolution.

“Zero fuel, zero emissions, zero pollution,” —that’s the motto of the Solar Impulse project, a plane that flies using only solar energy — by day and night. Two hundred photovoltaic panels cover its 60-metre wings — the same span as an Airbus A340. When the sun shines, the electricity produced is transferred to the motors and at the same time, the turbines recharge the batteries with the surplus energy.

This prototype sets itself apart from previous projects because of its “human dimension,” said Claude Michel, in charge of the Solvay-Solar Impulse partnership.

Solar Impulse has a pilot on board — uncommon for solar projects. To have enough power to bare the weight of a man, the key is lightness: “When you don’t have a lot of energy, you’ve got to save it,” said Michel. “Consider that 1 kg less on a plane, means 144 liters of fuel saved over a year. That’s 500 kg of CO2.”

The first test flights will be run by the end of this year and, in 2011, Solar Impulse should be the first solar plane to undertake a tour around the world.

It’s not destined for commercial use but it does have agricultural potentials.

The same optimism in green solutions, research and technological advances, is at the origin of the PlanetSolar project. This 30 metre long and 35 metre wide catamaran is covered by 470 of photovoltaic panels.

“Technology and knowledge, which can allow us to live in harmony with nature, are already available now,” said the Swiss skipper Raphaël Domjan, founder of PlanetSolar. “We have to show the world that these solutions exist, work and are economically viable.”

Under construction since Jan. 2009 in Germany, the boat will take the seas in May 2010 at the Hamburg Port Festival. After a first tour of Europe, PlanetSolar will be sailing the world’s oceans. On board, Raphaël Domjan and his well-known partner, the French skipper Gérard d’Aboville (first man to row across the Atlantic ocean alone), will make stops along their journey to raise awareness on the power of renewable energies.

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