Solar plane to circumnavigate the globe from UAE

Solar plane to circumnavigate the globe from UAE

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.

"We have chosen this location as being the best and most suitable departure and return point for the round-the-world tour due to its climate, infrastructure and commitment to clean technologies," Borschberg said in a statement.

Abu Dhabi is gaining an international reputation as a city of renewable energy. The UAE-owned Masdar, a renewable energy company, has built a city within the city – Masdar City ­– which is completely self-sustained. The massive project is a reference point for the rest of the world.

If oil-rich UAE is investing this heavily in renewable energy, maybe those without the oil should be following suite?

The SolarImpulse2 is primarily a Swiss project, but Masdar is a partner in it.

The Swiss have long been advocates for solar and worked to demonstrate its potential in transportation applications. The Turanor Planet Solar boat circumnavigated the globe twice on nothing but solar power. The Journey around the world in the SolarImpulse2 serves much the same purpose.

“Solar Impulse will demonstrate the far-reaching applications of clean energy during the first solar-powered flight around the world,” Piccard said in a statement.

The plane will land every five days to relieve the pilot, but could otherwise fly forever.