Solar power might take flight with a translucent coating on the skin of aircrafts that could generate a steady flow of energy, making planes more energy efficient.
Startup New Energy Technologies today announced that its "SolarWindow" technology could also be applied to the exterior surfaces of commercial and military aircrafts. The company is clearly looking to create buzz that might lure investors, but it makes a rational business case that SolarWindow could be useful in aviation.
SolarWindow is a process for applying plastic solar films to glass at room temperature and at low pressure. Windows retrofitted with the film can generate energy from the sun's visible light as well as artificial illumination such as office lighting. The glass remains transparent, so that the aesthetic qualities aren't lost.
The same applies to the metallic surfaces of aircrafts and even the helmets that military pilots wear with their flight suits. SolarWindow would provide supplementary power production, potentially reducing "the size and weight of ancillary power systems" aboard commercial airliners or power lightweight emergency equipment for downed pilots (that are presumably in need of a rescue or in an unfriendly place).
This might be something that Boeing should consider in light of exploding batteries - if the engineering and regulations permit. It's at least currently more practical than planes that are entirely solar powered.
"Unlike traditional PV, New Energy's SolarWindow coatings produce electricity from both natural sunlight and artificial light sources, and the system continues to produce power in low-light or shaded conditions," explained Dr. Scott Hammond, principal scientist of New Energy Technologies.
New Energy debuted a prototype of its "SolarWindow" technology in 2010. It has been inching toward commercialization ever since, missing its 2011 target for the market. In May, it announced improvements that it says would allow it to manufacture large windowpanes.
That makes future skyscrapers with exteriors that create renewable energy possible. It's an alternative to panels in urban areas, which seemed to be the company's focus up until today's announcement. There's a broader vision now - that's "plane" to see.
(Image credits: New Energy Technologies, Wikipedia)