For those who have flown either domestically or internationally, you probably have a great understanding of the headache involved with plane connections and flight changes. But what if you could fly anywhere in the world without having to stop once to refuel? That would be amazing, right? Well, these technological advances may not be as far off as you expect.
History of Solar Aviation
Solar-powered planes are not a figment of your imagination. Actually, the development of solar-powered planes has been an on-going process since the 1970s. The first goal was to create a fully operational plane based exclusively on solar energy. The main issue here was the exorbitant prices of the high-efficiency solar cells that were coming into production. These high-efficiency cells were needed to operate the planes that would be entirely dependent on solar energy without having to rely upon any battery storage. At the beginning of the 1980s, the Solar Challenger was able to achieve this goal and cross the English Channel without any battery storage systems.
With the cost constraints on high-efficiency solar cells, the capability to operate a manned solar-powered plane over long distances and high altitudes became the new focus for developers. Solar aviation research continued and solar-powered planes with battery storage transformed into a feasible solution to reach higher altitudes at a quicker pace.
After the successful venture of the Solar Challenger, the US government was highly-motivated to establish funding for AeroVironment Inc. (NASDAQ: AVAV). The studies would focus on the possibility of long duration flights above 65,000 ft. NASA was extremely pleased with the outcomes as the studies resulted in the creation of the Pathfinder, Centurion, and Helios.
Solar Aviation Today
Today, the concerns center around the viability of night flights, and on July 7th, Solar Impulse was able to alleviate those concerns. Solar Impulse took flight as it broke records for a 26-hour manned solar-powered flight. The goal was to test its reliability of solar-powered planes at night as the lithium polymer batteries were charged through the day to become fully operational.
The 26-hour flight test was successful as they landed more for the pilot’s own well-being than the fact that the plane couldn’t fly any further. Can you envision flying for 26 hours straight... by yourself? Well, the Solar Impulse reached heights of 26,000 ft with a top speed of 78 mph and was claimed as the only one, including its predecessors, to manage an entire night.
I’m not here to convince you that commercial 747s are converting to solar power tomorrow, but I am here to make you aware of the commitment by different industries to alternative energy. Over the years, we have been seeing a vast improvement in the solar aviation industry which could open the doors to a multitude of possibilities for scientific studies, defense planning, travel navigation, and even cellular communication.
Like I just mentioned, 747 conversions to solar-power is not around the corner, but there are some changes that could be feasible in a shorter period of time. Imagine having constant cellular service no matter where you are worldwide. With the creation of a solar-powered airborne telecommunication platform this could be possible. Even defense contracts have been established for the unmanned solar-powered Zephyr that could provide constant surveillance for months rather than days.
Whether the aircrafts are manned or unmanned, solar energy advancements are the key to future investments. Solar energy is not just about powering your home anymore, but maintaining the efficient lifestyle with a smaller footprint.
As any investor, I see the immense opportunities that will be created through alternative energy with solar being only a portion. That is why I feel it is important to increase your investment into alternative energy. The market provides you a number of different investment vehicles to take advantage of the green energy rise. Whether you choose stocks or ETFs the growth is out there, so keep your green thinking caps on.
Disclosure: No positions