Solar Impulse, the solar-powered plane, has nearly circumnavigated the world. This gentle, quiet dragonfly has the wingspan of a 747 and runs on four wing-mounted rotors driven by an overwing scalp of more than 17,000 photovoltaic cells. Stored in 800 pounds (363 kg) of advanced lithium polymer batteries, solar energy also keeps the plane aloft through the night. Si2’s featherweight fiber-and-foam body weighs only as much as your average SUV (about 5,000 pounds, or 2,300 kilos).
Even with these physical advantages, though, the plane could not exist without a vast, continuously functioning support system of internet-connected software and data analytics. The same technology has begun to revolutionize the machines that currently drive world industry and transportation, including those that power our ships and land vehicles.
Data analytics, for example, allow the pioneering aircraft to handle perilous weather and fly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with a crew of one. Says the systems manufacturer: (quote this person by name please)
“Thousands of sensors send data on both the plane and its pilot (heart rate, blood oxygen, etc.) to complex simulation systems at mission control on the ground, keeping Solar Impulse flying efficiently and safely around the clock. It embodies the Internet of Things in the sky.”
Technologies like those used by Solar Impulse provide environmentally friendly improvements in global energy use across a range of fields and industries. For example, a new smart sensor solution ABB developed for electric motors may save the global energy equivalent of 100 nuclear power stations.
The Internet of Things, Services and People (IoTSP) — ABB’s more holistic term — is turning masses of data into productivity gains across a wide range of industries. Remote monitoring of equipment on oil platforms, predictive maintenance of critical assets in a data center, real time data from a manufacturing floor – these are all examples of IoTSP today. These technologies give us better ways of linking disparate elements and information from infrastructure, utilities, transportation, and industry as a whole.
“In the coming years, these technologies will help us run the world sustainably, while providing power for all,” says Greg Scheu, President of ABB’s Americas region.
In the meantime, outstanding new developments like Solar Impulse will continue to direct humans toward robust improvement and sustainability in how we apply the Internet of Things, Services, and People.
Use of IoTSP
Sensors aboard Solar Impulse send data to the Mission Control Center (MCC) in Monaco so that the project’s engineers can remotely monitor the performance and condition of the aircraft’s vital systems.
This data, along with detailed meteorological information, is analyzed by the flight simulation team and enables them to establish optimum flight paths for journeys lasting several days and nights. Last year, Solar Impulse set a new world record for the longest non-stop flight, from Japan to Hawaii, after nearly 118 hours in the air.
Many of the clean technologies that are used in the Solar Impulse are also being used on the ground, all across the world. As just one corporate example, Solar Impulse partner ABB* is creating, implementing, and operating technology solutions that maximize the power yield from solar cells, integrate renewable energy into the electricity system, power trains more efficiently and charge electric cars and buses. Here’s a slight more detailed look at how Solar Impulse is a reflection of the cleantech solutions companies like ABB are implementing every day.
- Microgrids: Solar Impulse is somewhat like a flying microgrid — generating clean electricity from the sun’s rays, storing it in batteries and monitoring demand and supply. Innovative on-the-ground microgrid solutions do the same thing for off-grid communities, even in the harshest of environments.
- Sustainable transport: Solar Impulse stays aloft at night by storing solar energy gathered during the day and using that energy as efficiently as possible. This clean transport solution has attracted eyeballs around the globe, but similarly transformational sustainable transport solutions are on the market, including for cleaner ships, trains, and cars.
- Solar industry: Solar Impulse has demonstrated the huge potential of solar power, but that solar power had to be controlled and channeled in the proper way in order to get the airplane across the Indian Ocean, across the Pacific Ocean, and across the Atlantic Ocean. Similarly, on the ground sunshine doesn’t just need to be collected in order to power our world — the solar power must be integrated into the grid using sophisticated, efficient, and powerful inverters, substations, storage systems, transmission lines, etc.
Solar Impulse was built not to carry passengers but to bring a message that, by implementing technologies available today on a large scale, we can massively reduce energy consumption and increase the proportion of renewable energy used in grid systems worldwide. This year, after a winter hiatus in Hawaii, the plane resumed its round-the-world flight to return to its starting point in Abu Dhabi. As it makes its way across the United States and the Atlantic, ABB will be demonstrating how its products and services are improving energy efficiency and productivity and making a positive contribution towards reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.
*This article was kindly sponsored by ABB
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