For a few moments, Dear Reader, just imagine the normal source of power for the last two hundred years has been Solar Energy and Battery Power. All our vehicles, ships, airplanes and appliances run with power from the Sun and on chemical reactions that are contained in small packets with a big punch and run with 96% efficiency without emitting toxic chemicals and noise.
Now imagine further, that some innovating scientist tells you that he has discovered a new source of energy in liquid form; which is highly flammable; needs to be drilled out of the earth at great danger to the miners and workers; causes huge amounts of air pollution as well as dumping toxic chemicals in the ground and in the seas all over the world, harming humans and animal life as well as the eco systems and the climate. And it needs to be refined before sale and costs even more to transport to various destinations for use. And further, we need to fight wars far afield to protect our supply of this liquid fuel.
This liquid fuel needs to be stored in special containers and burnt at the rate of several thousand explosions per minute in a metal motor, which is heavy and bulky with hundreds of moving parts which cause friction loss and heat and lose efficiency before transforming up and down movement into a circular motion which then causes wheels and propellers to rotate. And it is only 25% efficient in converting the liquid fuel into work.
Were we to imagine, for a few more moments, a world where Internal Combustion Engines were introduced as a novelty, would we ever buy one or try one or risk the flammable fuel and exploding reciprocal motion and the inefficient energy transfer into locomotion? Would we risk the noxious and harmful emissions of solids and vapours, which cause many thousands of deaths and disease all over the world?
(The above scenario is inspired by a lecture given by Dr. Tine Tomazic (Head of R&D at Pipistrel and their resident Genius)
Today in the market place we have a 96% efficient, non-emitting, non-polluting chemical reaction, which generates electricity to power motors, which turn wheels and propellers. We have been aware of chemical reactions, which produce electricity, since the days of Luigi Galvano and Alessandro Volta, from the 18th Century, before any motorcars and airplanes ever existed. In the previous two centuries, but more so in the last 5 years, innovations in the field of “battery” (stacked in rows) power have made them more energy dense and rechargeable in a shorter time.
Car and mobile phone manufactures all over the world have brought the economies of scale and their financial clout to push research and development towards bringing prices lower. The absence of any harmful emissions during the chemical reactions generating electric power has enamoured electric cars to city centres and influenced national governments to take notice of this.
In my almost daily flying experience since the last 5 years all over the UK and Europe, I notice an increasing number of disused and used airfields and large farm tracts being covered by Solar Photo Voltaic panels converting sunlight to electricity and feeding it back into the National Grids.
I would like to explore and discuss the concept of a “Spider-Web” of Airfields and Airports, which have solar panels and storage batteries installed with charging point for cars and airplanes as well as personal items such as phones and laptops.
Most privately owned cars and aircraft sit idle more than being utilised, this allows for a slow leisurely recharge to their battery systems while the owners are working or sleeping. No need to divert nor queue at the Petrol garage during rush hour. At present the range of battery powered cars and airplanes, commercially available is approximately the same, at 120 nm on a single charge. The recharging of their fully discharged batteries takes about the same time, between 1 hour on a rapid charge system and up to 12 hours on a slow charger. This is very likely to become more time efficient as the batteries become more efficient. And just as in reality, we don’t deplete all the fuel in our tanks; we may only need to recharge the amounts we have used, so the replenishment time could be measured in minutes.
My estimate is that most private drivers use their cars for commuting for about 2 hours on a daily basis. Thus their car is idle and available for re-charge for the remaining 22 hours of the day. This gives a ratio of 8760 hours to 520 hours on a yearly basis. This is approximately a ratio of 87:5.
Most privately owned small aircraft are flown on average 100 hours in one year. Thus they are on the ground and available to receive a replenishing charge of energy for 8660 hours in one year. This is approximately a ratio of 86:1.
Is there a better way involving less physical effort than to simply plug in your vehicle to a solar powered charger to top your car and aircraft batteries ready for flight, while you go and enjoy your £5 burger, which includes the £1 of electric replenishment?
I can imagine a scenario in late 2017: - I drive my electric car from home to the airfield on the daily commute, 20 miles each way, at the same speeds as any other car on the motorway. My Electric aircraft is awaiting me fully charged overnight from the storage battery connected to the hangar roof mounted solar panels. No need to carry jerry cans full of flammable liquid in the boot of my car, then climb up a ladder to decant it into the airplane wing tanks. No need to check the fuel for water contamination. No need to check for type of fuel and the octane rating.
While I am flying my Electric plane in the circuit, teaching student pilots to take off and land, my electric car and that of my student, is being re-charged from storage batteries, which are in turn topped up by the solar panels on the hangar roof.
The hangar roof and storage battery combination is connected to and feeds back into the national grid, supplying cheap, if not free, electricity to the neighbours around the airfield, thus generating good will. The quiet cars and airplanes are not noticeable by the neighbours who can enjoy some quiet time in their gardens watching the aircraft flying over silently.
There are more than 500 airfields and private landing strips in UK that may be suitable for installation of solar panels and battery installations. Some already have solar panels installed and feed back into the grid earning a steady revenue, even though the government subsidies have been lowered substantially.
Owners of Electric cars could be invited to airfields to park and charge their cars for free, while visiting the airfield café and restaurants and watching aviation take place. This will generate much needed income for such café and restaurants as well as increasing awareness of aviation for the younger generation of future pilots.
Many Local Authorities have schemes for grants and subsidies for installing solar panels and storage batteries, which may be availed by airfields and the income generated by feedback into the national grid can be used to earn some revenue for airfield owners on a long-term basis. Some local authorities are exploring the use of street lampposts converted to recharge cars while they are parked; thus generating revenue and reducing inner city pollution in one stroke.
Airfields can be used as “show-case” locations for commercial producers of solar panels and batteries, which will generate additional advertising and rental income for airfield owners. This kind of advertising revenue will far exceed the revenue from landing fees.
Hangars with solar panel roofs will be an initial capital investment, which may qualify for subsidies and grants from local government and will continue to generate revenue, regardless of usage of runways for more than 25 years after installation.
The “spider-web” concept is to identify and locate airfields suitable for solar panels and battery storage (if not already present) within 50 miles to 100 miles distant from each other. This will enable Electric Aircraft and Cars to fly and drive freely using the “stepping stones” analogy, given the present day battery capacity and range of these vehicles.
This concept will help prepare airfields for future modes of electric transport, including pilotless cars and drone aircraft for deliveries of vital supplies and emergency equipment as well as leisure travel, thus ensuring continued revenue for owners into the future.
I welcome the Reader’s views on this debate and more information to help promote this concept in the microlight and SSDR world, where it is easier to innovate than in the rigidly regulated GA world.
Readers may contact me to fly in the Electric Aircraft commercially produced now, to experience for themselves, its handling and range capabilities. And no, at present there are no electric aircraft “certified” in the UK, but we may soon see that regulatory hurdle being overcome with collective innovative power!
Some examples of Electric Hub Airports and Airfields:-
Damyns Hall Aerodrome: - Local Council plans to install 18 hectares of solar panels on landfill site on the airfield boundary for supply to local housing. This solar energy can be tapped into for cars and aircraft.
Sandown airfield: - a popular tourist destination for pilots and drivers going for the day or the week end; large parking spaces for both aircraft and cars and solar panels.
Duxford Airfield: - A Museum of International repute visited by pilots and enthusiasts from all over the world as well as many thousands of school children on school project trips. Cars and busses can be charged from the more 2000 sq. meters of potential solar panels on hangar roofs. Large parking for modern electric aircraft at the home of historic aircraft will be ideal Hub for this concept.
Beccles Airfield already has more than 4600 sq. m of solar panels and is a popular destination for pilots to fly to the East Coast.