• Question: How realistic is solar-powered aviation on a large scale?

    Asked by 728xmasen22 to Saiful, Piers, Petra, Olivia, Oli, Meggi, Chris on 9 Jan 2017.
    • Photo: Piers Barnes

      Piers Barnes answered on 9 Jan 2017:


      We might see large-scale solar aviation becoming quite common for non-human applications. I guess there are lots of reasons why it could be useful to have airborne solar powered vehicles which wouldn’t need recharging ground based recharging. For example communications and delivery of small items.

      For passenger/goods transportation at high speed resembling the current aviation industry I think it is unlikely we will see planes directly powered by solar panel in the foreseeable future. This is because of the power requirements of a passenger plane. The average power consumption of a 747 is more than 100 megawatts – this would require around a square kilometre of solar panels in direct sunlight (ignoring any weight factors).

      Despite photovoltaic panels being directly mounted on planes probably being impractical for conventional aviation. It is entirely reasonable to imagine that planes could be powered by fuels derived from solar energy, but harvested on the ground.

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