Sustainable energy has been a hot topic now for a number of years. And rightly so. The amount of energy that is consumed globally is the highest it has ever been, and most governments around the world are yet to actually start taking global warming policy issues seriously.
In particular, the aviation industry takes a lot of flack when it comes to energy consumption, and aircraft manufacturers are facing increasing pressure to put an emphasis on fuel efficiency. That's why, when something comes along that flies in the face (pun very much intended) of people's general perceptions of a fuel-guzzling plane, it's worth standing up and taking notice.
The Solar Impulse 2 was launched in Abu Dhabi during the week, an aircraft that runs entirely on solar power that is attempting to be the first plane ever to fly completely around the world under it's own steam.
The aircraft is quite a sight, with a longer wingspan than an Airbus A380 (236ft), but weighing less than a Range Rover (5,000lbs) and it's wings are covered with 17,248 solar cells that power it's four 17.4-horsepower electric motors.
The aircraft is the brainchild of aviation nuts Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg and is scheduled to take off from Abu Dhabi in early March and fly 35,000km around the world, stopping off in Oman, India, Myanmar, China, the United States, and Southern Europe or North Africa, before landing back in Abu Dhabi sometime in August. The whole trip is expected to clock up 500 hours of total flight time.
The plane won't be breaking any speed records though, with an average speed of between 50km to 100km per hour. The implications for commercial air travel are not that obvious either, but that's not the point according to Piccard, "When the Apollo astronauts went to the moon, it wasn't to launch tourism on the moon and open hotels and make money, it was to inspire the world."
Who knows, maybe sometime in the future we'll all be going on holidays on solar powered planes. But for now, we'll just have to let projects like the Solar Impulse 2 fuel our imaginations.