Solar panels on the roof of your house – of course. Solar panels on the roof of your car – makes sense, especially if your car is electric. Solar panels on the wings of your plane? That’s a little more futuristic. But it’s happening.
The Solar Impulse 2, debuted in April, seats two, flies about 60 miles per hour and needs only stop to give the pilot a break. If not for its passengers, the solar-powered plane could theoretically fly forever without ever stopping.
The Swiss aircraft is outfitted with 17,200 solar cells, which are able to convert more than 22 percent of the solar energy they collect into electricity to power the plane’s four propellers. At 72 meters, the wing span is bigger than that of a Boeing 747 jet.
Project founders, Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, plan to complete a round-the-world journey in the plane next year. The two will do some pre-flight practice starting in January before they take off from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates in March 2015.
President Barack Obama made several announcements about programs designed to increase solar energy generation and economic stability ahead of the United Nations Climate Summit schedule to start this week.
First, Obama announced an aggressive plan to install more than 35 megawatts of solar in rural America. The Department of Agriculture has pledged to spend $68 million on energy efficiency upgrades and new solar installations, Obama said Thursday.
Of 540 planned renewable energy and efficiency projects, 240 are solar installations.
In addition to increasing efficiency and adding renewable energy generation in rural areas, Obama said the Department of Housing and Urban Development is clarifying one of its major funding programs for economic development and affordable housing communities. HUD will encourage solar and energy-efficiency projects to apply for those funds and to outfit affordable housing communities with solar panels.
Rooftop solar panels in North America face south. That’s just the way we do it. But California recently began to incentivize west-facing panels over south-facing solar.
New guidelines from the California Energy Commission call for a 15 percent higher rebates for west-facing solar arrays than for south-facing solar panels.
While solar panels collect more energy overall when they point toward the equator, that annual energy advantage isn’t as important as generating more clean energy in the early evening hours when Californians arrive home from work and turn on their air conditions, televisions and microwaves.
Facing rooftop solar panels toward the setting sun, can increase late-day energy production by as much as 50 percent, according to recent studies.
Hawaii Electric Companies proposed a plan this week to triple rooftop solar on the islands it serves by 2030 and reduce utility bills by 20 percent. But the solar industry isn’t applauding the effort yet.
While Hawaii would get more than 65 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2030, the plan calls for measures that could increase costs for home and business owners who install solar, offsetting the benefits.