A couple of readers have brought up the latest on the Solar Impulse 2 project, the solar-powered plane designed by a couple of Europeans to showcase the “unlimited” potential of solar energy in a “solo flight” around the world. Here’s the latest news.
The Solar Impulse 2 plane was launched from Abu Dhabi, amid much media fanfare, on March 9 this year. Today, almost 200 days later involving 8 legs, it is now stuck in Hawaii and it is not going anywhere. So much for the dream.
It turns out that instead of bringing attention to the technology’s potential, the project has only brightly highlighted solar energy’s shortcomings and the technology’s glaring inferiority. Indeed the plane needs the dimensions of a jumbo jet – just to carry the payload of a car.
Today, some six months later (almost 200 days), we see the solar contraption has yet to even reach the halfway point of it’s planned around the world journey. The plane and its pilots are firmly grounded in Hawaii due to an array of technical problems. In comparison a fossil-fueled jetliner would have completed the trip hundreds of times by now, and that while carrying a payload hundreds of times greater.
Greenhouse gas nightmare
I blogged on Solar Impulse 2 earlier here. We saw that the endeavor had been everything but successful – even at that point – and that it was in fact a greenhouse gas nightmare.
To put the project’s performance in some perspective, let us recall how Jules Verne’s fictional characters Phileas Fogg and his valet Passepartout were able to complete their trip around the world in just 80 days – and that in a balloon back in the 19th century! Today we find ourselves in the 21st century and now around-the-world trips with the “latest pioneering technology” are taking some 500 days. Don’t you just love progress? Passepartout’s and Fogg’s balloon would have long since arrived by now.
Conceivably one almost could make the trip more quickly by foot, over land, and sailboat over sea.
This so-called “pioneering solo flight” in reality involved the burning of tens of thousands of liters of fossil fuels because an entire support crew had to be flown along in a fossil fuel powered jet. The fixed-wing Solar Impulse 2 departed Abu Dhabi on March 9 and was planned to continue to India, China, Hawaii, Phoenix, New York, Morocco before finally coming full circle back to Abu Dhabi – sometime in August, 2015 – and “without emitting any climate gases”.
Wikipedia has since revised the clean plane’s timetable. Now the trip should be completed next year.
During the summer it was reported by a handful of media outlets that the plane had been forced to land in Hawaii because of “irreversible damage” to its lithium ion battery system. Getting the replacements parts for the plane would take months and so the plane would be grounded for 9 months, according to reports.
Not enough sun to power the aircraft
This is not the first setback for the Impulse 2. It has since become obvious that the technology is woefully unfit to handle poor weather conditions. Back in May the pilots had to detour to Japan due to bad weather conditions from a cold front. And now that summer is over, there is not going to be enough sunshine in the northern hemisphere to keep the solar-powered plane flying. The result: an extended months-long stay in Hawaii. So tough can failure be.
The pilots now say they will try to complete the remainder of the trip – sometime later in 2016…very likely well over 500 days after their departure. The latest target. we suppose, is to arrive less than one year late.
How will the team look back and rate the project once it ends? They could take the approach once proposed by one US senator on the Vietnam War debacle: “We should declare victory and get the hell out.” Expect nothing less.