ABB and Solar Impulse form tech alliance for round-the-world-flight

Switzerland power and automation company ABB – a world-leading producer in solar inverters – has teamed up with fellow Swiss pioneers Solar Impulse on the latter’s forthcoming solar-powered round-the-world flight attempt.

ABB has confirmed that three of its engineers will join the Solar Impulse team from March, when the Solar Impulse plane – the Si2 – takes off from Abu Dhabi as it attempts to circumnavigate the globe using only the power of the sun.

Since Solar Impulse’s inaugural solar-powered flight in 2012, ABB has been a key partner, providing expertise on everything from ground operations, system controls and enhanced charging technology for the plane’s battery systems.

For this latest adventure, ABB has been brought alongside the Solar Impulse team to help maximize power output and efficiency, and to tackle and resolve any obstacles or hurdles that may crop up during the 40,000 kilometer flight.

"Solar Impulse will inspire a new generation to embrace innovation and technology to solve the planet’s biggest challenges," said ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer. "ABB will be with the Solar Impulse team every mile of its journey."

The Si2 aircraft is currently in Abu Dhabi going through the final preparations for take-off, which is penciled in for late February or early March. The plane’s pilots – Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg – have undergone intensive training to prepare them for the journey. Due to weight restrictions, only one pilot can be seated in the cockpit at any one time, meaning each man must swap in and out after a five-day piloting stint. While up in the air, the pilot’s can afford themselves no more than 20 minutes of sleep at a time, always over seas or oceans, and have learnt to meditate in order to sustainably recharge their own batteries.

On the ground, the pilots will be looked after by a team of engineers and technicians that will monitor every metric of the plane’s performance – from the yield of each of its 17,248 solar cells (provided by SunPower) to the level of juice in the plane’s batteries and the minute detail of the flight route.

Piccard remarked that ABB’s involvement on the projects has reinforced his own team’s endeavor to demonstrate the power of renewable energy and clean innovation. "This is what the world needs," said the famous aviator. "Otherwise we’re going to waste all our natural resources."

Spiesshofer added: "Together, we need to run the world without consuming the earth. In very simple terms, that is what we stand for."

pv magazine will feature an in-depth look at the Si2 aircraft and its forthcoming journey in the February issue of the magazine.