Saturday, April 27, 2013



Two weeks ago, Switzerland started its new international tourism campaign, projecting a quaint image invented by Romantic writers like Friedrich Schiller and Johanna Spyri, with a few chaps from the Outback fighting in a Schwingen match. This suits well with the political majority party, who would like to place a cheese cloche over the country so it can live in a bubble.

Meanwhile, the Swiss fret over the 2050 energy package, ratified 25 May 2011, after Fukushima and the decision to exit nuclear energy generation. The slogan is that of the 2000-Watt Society, in which each person does not use more than 2000 W per day (today's average is 6000 W) and emits less than 1 Ton of CO2 per annum.

Such goals require the thought leadership of visionaries and effective demonstrators. Solar Impulse has been one of the best demonstrators. For example, in May 2012 it flew from Payerne across the Mediterranean to Rabat and Quarzazate, convincing the Moroccans that solar energy is the way of the future, supporting the plan by King Mohammed VI to construct the world’s largest thermo-solar power plant in Ouarzazate.

The visionaries behind Solar Impulse are Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, along with their sponsors and their big team.

Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg

The numbers of Solar Impulse are quite impressive: with a wingspan of 63.40 m it is the size of an Airbus A340 or a 747, but it weighs only 1,600 Kg, just a little more than a Prius. Its range is infinite, because it can fly perpetually, since it produces much more electricity than it consumes, just as the Swiss hope to do with their houses.

Currently Solar Impulse is in Hangar 2 at Moffett Federal Airfield at Ames Research Center, getting ready for the next mission.

Admirers of Solar Impulse in Hangar 2

Solar Impulse in Hangar 2

Although the airplane can fly perpetually, in their 2015 flight around the world with the second model, license HB-SIB, Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg will take turns every 5 days, because that is how long a trained human can stay awake and pilot, and also sit with very limited motion on the pilot seat/toilet combo:

Solar Impulse cockpit

On the first of May, Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg will take off from Moffett Field at a speed of 44 km/h and fly their Across America mission, which will take them to Phoenix, Dallas, Saint Louis or Atlanta, Washington D.C., and finally JFK in New York City.

If you happen to look up and see a jumbo with license HB-SIA soaring silently at a speed of 70 km/h, think what you can do to give back more energy than you consume, so your total usage (think at those servers farms delivering your contents) is below 2000 W per day. In the case of the Solar Impulse, its 11,628 SunPower solar cells have an efficiency of 23% and drive the four brushless sensorless electric engines in addition of charging the batteries for when there is no sunlight.