Running the world without consuming the earth: Solar Impulse demonstrates the potential of microgrids

To fly a plane around the world on solar energy alone was considered almost impossible until Solar Impulse took to the skies last year, setting a new record for the longest non-stop flight, when Solar Impulse pilot André Borschberg spent 117 hours, 52 minutes in the air during his flight from Japan to Hawaii. The technologies that enable the plane to keep flying day and night have important applications on the ground, especially in places with no access to grid connections or reliable electricity sources.

Solar Impulse, which is resuming its round-the-world flight in 2016, is famous for having flown more than halfway round the world without consuming a drop of fossil fuel. What powers the plane is an on-board grid, which converts solar energy from the more than 17,000 solar photovoltaic cells that cover the wings and fuselage to power the plane. As long as the sun is shining brightly, the cells produce more than enough power to keep the aircraft flying, thanks to its exceptionally efficient electric motors. Excess power is routed to the plane’s batteries where it is stored for night flights. In this way, Solar Impulse can remain aloft 24 hours a day powered by solar power alone.

On the ground, self-contained power grids like those of the Solar Impulse are known as microgrids. Such energy resources are typically located at or near the place where the energy is used, operating in a controlled and coordinated way. They have the advantage of being quick to install and can operate either as stand-alone grids or be connected to the main power grid. In sunny or windy places, microgrids can be powered by renewable energy, such as small-scale solar farms or local wind turbines. Leer más…

Claudio Facchin
President, ABB Power Grids division

Article published in: FuturENERGY April 2016