There’s an excitement going on in the environmental movement over the development in solar energy— a development that some hope will eventually run rings around fossil fuels.
Technicians have developed a solar powered flying wing that will be able to stay aloft for six months at a time.
The airplane generates all of its own energy, and stores its own energy, which has been the problem for solar up until now, and can exist completely independently of outside energy sources.
Engineers say the technology that powers the aircraft could solve some of the energy industry’s biggest challenges — generating and then storing solar energy and making it cost-effective.
A working prototype of a fuel cell coupled with this new, high-tech solar panels made from silicon or refined sand. The flat silicon solar panels are arranged in a cube — and that with the fuel cell ends up being about the size of a Rubik’s cube. Just 10 of those cubes would be enough to generate enough electrical power for an entire house.
According to Dick Swanson, CEO of Sun Power, they’re talking about the future of power being sunlight, which is free, and sand, which is probably the most prevalent material on the planet.
This is how it works: The sun’s energy splits water into hydrogen and oxygen during the day. Then, a fuel cell then brings the two gases back together to make electricity at night.
“This energy storage system is actually a fairly elegant, simple system, we think,” says John Delfrate of NASA. Simple and Effective — So Far
The flying wing is one example which some day could be used to monitor the environment and relay telecommunications data.
Power plants will be next, using thousands of solar cell cubes.
“We can produce this for less than $200 for 200 watts, making it the first approach that we believe can truly compete with fossil fuels,” Swanson says of the cubes.
In the future, far fewer cubes could be used for personal power plants.
“It takes about 10 of these to power one house,” Swanson says.
For now, solar power still costs as three times as much as oil and gas. Analysts say that is the final challenge the industry needs to overcome before it comes a realistic energy alternative.