Currently showing: Sustainable energy > Solar

10 Apr 14 17:07

Yesterday I was in the Swiss countryside, just outside the quiet, picturesque and sleepy little town of Payerne. A few hundred meters from where I was standing, Swiss jet fighters are taking off and landing in what seemed to be routine exercises. Their thunderous engines roaring, their neck-breaking speed and commanding presence – it's such a spectacle. It's intoxicating.

All the more so, when I think that in the hangar 20 meters behind me another flying technological marvel, Solar Impulse 2, has just been unveiled and presented to the world. Its four electrical engines are probably as noisy as a lazy cat and its cruising speed is about the same as your aunt's scooter.

And then its presence. Those muscular, angular, menacing jet fighters stand no chance next to Solar Impulse 2. This is a graceful thing, delicate yet sturdy, elegant and strangely balanced. To say that it came out of a science fiction book would be to miss the point by a mile. If an analogy is needed, I'd say it's like one of Mozart's late piano sonatas, which achieve the greatest effects with the simplest of means – only taking them to their extremes.

Then I thought, what's the purpose of jet fighters, either from neutral Switzerland or from a bellicose state? Defense? I don't think so. Their purpose is to destroy. Defense is incidental. And what's the purpose of Solar Impulse? Adventure? Yeah, sure. But then again, that's incidental. Its purpose is to demonstrate what clean technologies and renewable energy can achieve, if they are given a chance. Technologies which, by the way, are not hidden, kept secret in underground military labs.

Solar Impulse 2 unveiled | Swiss Re - Leading Global Reinsurer

In 2012 Swiss Re Corporate Solutions became the sole insurer of Solar...

Category: Sustainable energy: Solar

Location: Switzerland


Erika Frey-Hasegawa - 10 Apr 2014, 7:35 p.m.

Thanks for sharing, Daniel. Lucky duck you to be there in person! Sounds surreal and peaceful - flying and silence.

Love your Mozart reference too. My favorite mad genius who took the basics and made timeless classics (no pun intended to a classical music maestro!) Who knows? Maybe in the future humans will be flying fast silently.

"He who would travel happily must travel light."

Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Poet/ Pilot

Jennifer Rodney - 11 Apr 2014, 8:17 a.m.

A beautiful and thought provoking description Daniel. Thanks so much for sharing the essence of encountering Solar Impulse 2 with those of us who haven't seen it in person. I'm looking forward to tracking the plane's journey as it shares the possibilities and potential of solar power around the world!

Aviator Re - 11 Apr 2014, 4:37 p.m.

A great blog. Thanks for sharing your first hand experience Daniel. Couldn't have described it any better myself! Like the old saying in aviation, "if it looks good, it flies good too!" :)

Alicia Montoya - 13 Apr 2014, 2:04 p.m.

There is no question in my mind that renewable energy will power the future. The question is, how quickly do we want that future?

If you want to accelerate it, you can adopt a solar cell! :)
"Choose your very own solar cell amongst the 10,748 on the wing surface, or offer one to your family and friends. Why not choose the one next those belonging to Yann Arthus Bertrand, Al Gore or Paul Coelho, or another patron of the project? Personalize it with your name, your photo, the flag of your country and a personal message."

Daniel Perez-Whitaker - 16 Apr 2014, 4:54 p.m.

I'm not so sure renewable energies are inevitable. They will grow and are likely to become very important - but will they power the future? I'm not sure.

There seems to be more fossil fuels than anybody had originally thought (something prophesized already in 1997 by Carl Sagan in his fabulous book 'Billions and billions'). Upstream, new and ever bigger reserves are found often, and the marginal costs of exploration and production go down in the aggregate. Downstream, the technologies for generating energy from fossil fuels are tried and tested, and become not only more stable but also cheaper and more reliable.

The growing and/or emerging technologies, such as offshore wind and solar photovoltaic (even eolic), need humongous amounts of capital coming from different types of investors – investors who, up to now, have been mistakenly labelled as "sustainable" or "alternative." That sounds very romantic, but there's nothing further from the truth.

Last year, James Knight, Managing Director at Augusta & Co. told me that "to get a hold of the amount of capital needed, it's important to help institutional investors look at these types of investments as long-term bond-type instruments rather than 'alternative' asset types."

I also had a chance to speak with Fintan Whelan, CFO at Mainstream Renewable Power. One of his remarks was eye-opening; he said "institutional investors' approach more recently is a search for yield; these (renewable energy) assets are essentially throwing off energy-inflation adjusted cash flows."

And then there's the all-important role of the regulators. And the market behaviour of the incumbent producers of facilities fired by fossil fuels. Furthermore, the most efficient sources of renewable energy, the nuclear plants, are amongst the world's favorite villains. On top of this all, innovative projects in renewables need to be de-risked in ways not seen before – and here, of course, insurance plays a crucial role.

It's an enormously complex set of equations. I'm hopeful mankind will solve them, but I do see more an energy mix balanced between renewables-fossil fuels. My two cents.

Alicia Montoya - 17 Apr 2014, 8:53 p.m.

I totally agree.. in the short-term (read more about that in this comment

I was talking about a not-so-immediate future. Just as it's unthinkable today to run trains on coal (steam engines), 100 years from now I think we will similarly look back on when our cars ran on petrol and our power plants on coal.

I could be wrong but I hope I'm not ;)

Paul Meeusen - 21 Aug 2014, 9 a.m.

Always good to remind us of the brutal facts. Some basic economic principles apply to exercise right judgement here: time value of money and full cost. Looking back 200 years shows that the fossil energy industry was not created overnight. Thus, let us give the renewable energy a fair chance and accept that most of what is done today, are really R&D investments and should be amortised over a long period to judge the business case. That may be counter intuitive, as wind and solar sound so simple. After all, our forefathers, used windmills and other renewables already. The criticism on subsidies for these investments is fair, but we should also not forget that the fossil industry was massively subsidized in the past as well, such as the steel and coal industry in Europe where governments basically provided free land and arranged cheap immigrant labor, then also stepped in when that industry collapsed, all with tax payers' money. Full costs of fossil energy side effects are still not fully internalized into the price, as already noted elsewhere on this forum. If we would do that, from dwell to pump, numbers and incentives would change. Economists should put more work into modeling that into a generally accepted framework, as some components are hard facts, such as CO2 and other pollution, but further side effects require more work to obtain accepted standards, such as the price of the average Chinese child living in a big city never breathing fresh air or seeing a clear sky.Than there is a part that is about audacity and vision, I am with Alicia here. Just like Steve Jobs boldly said, don't ask the customers want they want because they don't know yet, and then he gave us the the Iphone. In the same way, we will joke to our children about cars run on petrol. For the investors, Elon Musk the entrepreneur behind Tesla, SpaceX and Solarcity, has a simple advice: when too many others know already that you are onto something, it's too late already to step in.

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