Solar-Powered Airplanes? It Could Happen

One of the biggest problems for air travel is the reliance on fuel for flights. Not only does this produce an abundance of harmful emissions, but it also drives the cost of tickets to nearly unaffordable heights for overseas travel. The biggest advantages of solar energy are being considered as a way to revolutionize the airline industry.

A solar-powered aircraft with the ability to navigate the globe was recently unveiled in Switzerland. Its total travel time is five days, and it needs no fuel to make its journey. The Solar Impulse 2 will be put to the test next year when it takes its first official flight.

The plane is equipped with solar panels and batteries. The batteries provide the backup power needed to fly at night, though it is hoped that the technology will advance further to allow the solar panels to fully power these types of aircraft at night as well as during the day. The Solar Impulse 2 has 17,000 solar panels, and an impressive 236-foot wingspan. It is ultra light, and is truly a vision of engineering beauty. It will need to undergo a series of shorter test flights before it goes around the world, and if all goes well, solar power could be the thing that takes you on your next vacation.

The advantages of solar energy include lower costs and zero emissions, which is exactly what the airline industry needs in order to provide reliable, cost-efficient, green technology. Today’s commercial airliners use an unbelievable amount of fuel—36,000 gallons of gas on a ten-hour flight in a Boeing 747—making solar power a better option for ticket prices and the environment.

Solar Power Begets Solar Power

One of the biggest challenges for solar power system creation is the production of the solar panels. Although solar energy itself leaves no carbon footprint, the manufacturing process does. Engineers at Oregon State University may have a solution to this problem.

Solar power may soon deliver enough energy to produce the solar panels without the use of traditional power sources. The sun is capable of producing copper indium diselenide ink, which is effective for use in solar energy production. This ink can be used to coat windows and other surfaces, effectively turning them into solar panels. The ink is extremely thin and versatile, and can convert solar power at rates of around 20 percent.

Not only is this production capability more energy-efficient; it is also faster. The process allows for solar technology to be produced in a matter of minutes, which is a significant improvement over current production times. This means that more materials can be made for less money, meaning that the cost of adding solar capability to a home may drop dramatically once this technology is put in place on a large scale.

With this new advance in solar panel system technology, the carbon emissions impact is reduced to virtually zero. The only consideration will be the transportation of the ink—a problem easily remedied by using electric vehicles instead of gas-powered ones for transportation and distribution. As researchers continue to study solar power, it is possible that solar energy will one day become the true zero-emissions energy source it is intended to be.

Solar Powered Smartphones Hit the Market

When it comes to solar energy, solar panels for home use aren’t the only way to benefit from this renewable resource. Luxury watch manufacturer Tag Heuer recently announced its solar-powered smartphone. This exclusive model may carry a $7,000 price tag, but could more affordable options for solar-powered smartphones around the corner?

The Meridiist Infinite by Tag Heuer is a limited-release, luxury smartphone. The production will be limited to about 1,900 pieces, which helps to create that expensive price tag. While it won’t be as popular as an iPhone, people who want the status that comes with a luxury phone will most likely be in a rush to get this new, innovative device. For more practical consumers, it is the solar panel technology that is interesting.

This phone uses photovoltaic components and sapphire glass to help harness the power of natural light. This means that the phone can essentially recharge itself when left in the sun. While other smartphones realize significant battery loss when left in sunlight, the Meridiist Infinite thrives on the exposure. The phone is made with Titanium and Carbon, which adds to its significant price tag, but it is possible that the same technology could be implemented with more consumer-friendly options.

For people who already have solar panels their homes, the idea of buying a solar-powered smartphone is an attractive one. Hopefully the major phone manufacturers will catch on to Tag Heuer’s latest innovation and use it for everyday products in the near future.

The Hybrid Plug-In Gives the Electric Car Some Gas

The electric car was ridiculed early on, with many skeptics saying that it would never take off. Today’s hybrid plug-ins are making the electric vehicle more palatable to many car buyers, and the biggest names in the auto industry have finally created models that people are willing to buy.

The hybrid plug-in combines an electric engine with a gas-powered option, so drivers can run their vehicles on all-gas, all electric, or a combination of the two, depending on their driving needs. For many, the ability to use a gas option is what makes these cars so desirable. For longer drives, the gas option can take the car farther without having to locate a charging station. The electric engine provides better gas mileage, so drivers can save money at the pump while feeling good about lowering their carbon footprint.

Today, the Ford Fusion Energi, the Honda Accord hybrid and the Chevy Volt are leading the pack with consumers looking for a more efficient, lower cost hybrid vehicle. These models aren’t the tiny, Smart Car-sized vehicles that were first envisioned when electric cars were first conceptualized. These hybrids are large enough to fit a whole family, and are affordable enough to be within the reach of most buyers.  With car charging stations popping up all over the country, these cars are more practical than ever before.

While not everyone has gotten on board with the electric-only options on the market, the hybrid plug-in is paving the way for more buyers to choose an environmentally friendly vehicle that is safe, efficient and affordable.

Japan Takes on Large Solar Power Challenge

As more and more countries try to find ways to combat pollution, they are turning to solar power. Japan has announced an aggressive plan to build a new solar power plant that will be one of the largest in the world when complete. The new solar power system is expected to provide energy to more than 80,000 homes.

The new facility is expected to open in 2018, and it will be the biggest in all of Japan. GE plans to bankroll part of the $80 billion project, covering between 12 and 25 percent of the project costs. This isn’t GE’s first foray into the world of solar power. It has been involved in several projects in the US and Europe in the past.

What is remarkable about the move in Japan is how it is signaling global efforts by governments to make the switch to renewable power. Considering the alarming amount of pollution in densely populated regions throughout the world, the switch to solar is the responsible—and affordable—move for many countries big and small. For Japan, the trend of solar power is gaining a lot of traction in light of the events at Fukishima. Though solar power only accounts for one percent of the country’s energy use right now, that number is expected to grow. This makes the new solar power plant a potentially lucrative investment for GE and other investors.

This new solar power system shows that more nations are interested in renewable energy as a reliable alternative to more harmful energy sources. Both affordable and efficient, solar energy is quickly gaining popularity as a trusted energy source.

Could the Next Solar Panel Revolution be Made of Paper?

Could the Next Solar Panel Revolution be Made of Paper?

As scientists learn more about how solar panels work, they are able to create better, cheaper, and more efficient technology for producing solar power. The latest breakthrough in harnessing this renewable energy source comes in the form of paper PV panels. If these panels prove successful, they could revolutionize the way solar panels are produced.

The new technology uses oxidized wood fibers that are much more transparent than today’s solar panels. The transparency of 96 percent means a more efficient means of capturing the sun’s rays and converting them into solar power. This form of solar cell is also much more affordable than some of the other cells currently on the market.

The paper cells showed that they were able to improve the ability to harness power by ten percent, making them a better option for areas that don’t receive as much direct sunlight as states in the western portion of the US.

Of course, there is also the benefit of a smaller carbon footprint associated with the production of solar panels. Since the production and shipping of panels is the only true source of carbon emissions for solar power, creating a more eco-friendly option for manufacturing can have a profound impact on the environment as well.

Whether or not these new paper panels will gain popularity around the globe remains to be seen. Scientists are still looking into how solar panels work when made from paper, but it is possible that this technology might soon be in homes across the US and around the globe.