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Solar Impulse project

One thing that the BBC has been promoting (the science journalists rather than the environmental journalists) over the last few weeks is the "Solar Impulse 2" project, which is expected to continue over several more months, and is described on this webpage:


A few quotes from the webpage:

"In the footsteps of the great aeronautical firsts, Solar Impulse intends to achieve the First Round-The-World Solar Flight in 2015, after 12 years of research, tests and development. No fuel, but only solar energy and technologies of the future, to prove that pioneering spirit and innovation can really change the world."

"Our aim: Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg do not plan to revolutionize the aviation industry but instead to demonstrate that the actual alternative energy sources and new technologies can achieve what some consider impossible. Solar Impulse wants to mobilize public enthusiasm in favor of technologies that will allow decreased dependance on fossil fuels, and induce positive emotions about renewable energies."

This looks as though it is part of the campaign to get world leaders to sign up to a new climate change agreement in 2015. There seems to be a left-liberal push to reduce the use of fossil fuel, campaigning for it to be left in the ground, and this might be an issue in any new agreement. I can imagine a thicko like John Prescott (who has been recently appointed as Ed Miliband's adviser on climate change, and would be strongly involved in negotiations by the UK on a new climate change agreement, as he was in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, if Labour won the 2015 General Election) arguing that you don't really need fossil fuel if you can build a solar powered plane that can fly round the world.

The terminology used on the Solar Impulse project is somewhat different to what is normally encountered. Often renewable energy proponents claim they are using free fuel, in the sense that nobody is specifically selling wind or sunlight as a commodity to them. The Solar Impulse people are claiming not to be using fuel, so they are not actually regarding sunlight as a fuel.

However the NoTricksZone blog points out the claim not to be using any [fossil] fuel in this project is rather dubious, as it involves support planes which will be using aviation fuel:


It reminds me of that situation a few years ago where David Cameron (as opposition leader) was riding a bicycle to work, but a car was following him around carrying his briefcase:


Re: Solar Impulse project

Thank you Dave. Once again the white elephant will not be discussed will it?

Trains are wonderful things. They can move lots of goods a long ways for fairly low expense. Trains suffer from the same last mile problem of the internet. Fiber can move lots of data a long way really quickly, really cheaply. Getting fiber into people homes though is outrageously expensive. A semi truck can make it to my house and load the entire contents of my property into it. Should the truck go to the train depot and be transloaded? Or do we just pay the truck to go to its destination?

Would it be nice to have a 100G bidirectional connection in my home? Hell yes. It gets awkward when everyone in the neighborhood has that same connection though because the people delivering content now don't worry too much about the size of the content. The 100G pipe is a significant fraction of the "big pipes". Suddenly we are clogging the big pipes with mostly junk.

We could go a thousand directions.

"But the plane flew with just solar power!"

Re: Solar Impulse project

One thing the NoTricksZone blogger seems to have not mentioned about this project, is that in addition to support people flying around in fossil fuel burning charter planes that follow the solar-powered plane, it has a pretty substantial "mission control center" operation described on this link:


This mission control center is based in Monaco, and has a team of about 20 'specialists'. It looks like this arrangement will have a pretty big carbon footprint as it is going to be operating 24/7 for the duration of the project, which is supposedly going to be five months. This Solar Impulse 2 project is something like the Green equivalent of a space mission.

Obviously an ordinary plane doesn't require a mission control centre, which raises the question of what these specialists are actually doing, and this single page PDF document throws a bit of light on that:


From the PDF document it looks like this team is doing things like checking for favourable weather conditions, including making sure that there is enough sunshine to recharge the batteries for each leg of the overall flight.

In the top right hand corner of the PDF it says "an idea born in Switzerland". I don't think this project gives Switzerland a particularly favourable image, other than amongst Greenies.

Re: Solar Impulse project

But Dave,

The airlines have Traffic Control Centers don't you know!

"Well, the Solar Impulse Project can use those control centers now can't it!"

Suddenly we are in the same **** snarl as every other discussion. There are people trained to identify problems and solve them. Then there are the people trained to solve marketing problems. Sometimes the two groups can communicate effectively.

Sometimes not.

Re: Solar Impulse project

The Solar Impulse project does use air traffic control centres, the same ones as the airlines. Some of the mission control centre staff are described as being air traffic controllers, but the job appears to consist of talking to the official traffic control centres:


I'm not quite sure what you're talking about when you refer to marketing people. You may be implying that the mission control centre is some sort of marketing activity for the project, designed to impress journalists and maybe it also gives Price Albert II of Monaco a role in the project. If so, I would agree that is possibly its main purpose.

Re: Solar Impulse project

Sorry. There is an engineering problem to solve: How to get people from point A to point B. There is a marketing problem to solve: How to get people to use the engineers solution.

Your analysis is correct.

The human powered helicopter is an example of a great trick. Some of the lessons learned can transfer over into other areas, but mostly it is a great way to focus on a particular part of the problem.

I tried to explain to my son this morning why it was that two umbrellas broke over the last year. We had purchased both of them at the Thrift store. They were both used. Part of the attractiveness of the umbrella is its lightness, that allows it to be carried in a backpack without undue burden to be available for the minutes when it is needed. If it were sturdy enough to handle all things forever, it would likely be really heavy and not so conveniently carried.

Handling all things is hard to quantify when you have a 9 year old and an umbrella that "springs" open at the press of a button.

The umbrella cost $1. The next one will likely be close to the same. I don't freak out when the umbrella is opened 20 times in 10 minutes when the price point is $1.

The Solar Impulse Proejct is not $1.


Re: Solar Impulse project

I am reminded of the great marketing bonanza surrounding the Prius and the vilification of "gas guzzling 4x4s".
What was carefully omitted from the evaluation of the Prius was the fact that it needed special steels to carry the weight of those batteries which are a life limiting factor.
If one only focused on the cost of fuel and the pollution emitted in use, as one was supposed to and being lead to do by the marketing, then the Prius was the future. The best thing since sliced bread.
But of one looked at the "ashes to ashes" energy content and pollution, top of the league for the most environmentally friendly vehicles came, you guessed it, a gas guzzling 4x4 with Prius somewhere down in 84th p[lace or something.
The 4x4 uses all standard materials and its engine, being oversized for the task in hand (taking the kids to school mostly, or so it seems) last practically forever. Long enough so that its "footprint" is vastly more favourable.

Thus one wonders what we are not being told about the solar project. Obviously weight is a factor.... (is this what I recall from 12 years or more ago? wasn't their some circumnavigation flight that was going to be man-powered? I need to look into it.) so what are the materials used? Very light weight films from petrochemicals? Oops!

PS. With the BBC as it is today is it safe to segregate the "scientists" from the "Climate scientists"?

Re: Solar Impulse project

"Separate the scientists from the climate scientists?"

Are you suggesting that real scientists may start distancing themselves from the climate scientists?

This makes me think of a cartoon. Cell one shows the scientists cringing away from the climate scientists. Cell 2 shows the climate scientists basking in the glow of the "Fear they perceive" in their fellow scientists. "They are scared of our knowledge, we have power!"