Solar Impulse completes historic voyage, ABB supports every step of the way.

ABB and Solar Impulse take a shared message of pioneering technology across continents and oceans.

Prelude to journey

The landing of Solar Impulse in Abu Dhabi on July 26, 2016, marked the successful completion of the record-breaking zero- flight around the world, the first by a solar-powered aircraft. Solar Impulse achieved this historic milestone with stopovers on four continents, and flights across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans that tested the endurance of pilot and craft alike. The unprecedented journey demonstrated the great promise of renewable energy to the world.

ABB joined forces with the Solar Impulse team when the plane was under construction. Through the innovation and technology alliance it forged with Solar Impulse, ABB provided dedicated engineers to the project, whose experience was critical to enabling the success of the mission. At the same time, ABB’s local teams participated at every stop, explaining to students, customers, employees and communities across the world that what Solar Impulse has achieved in the air, ABB is doing on the ground.

On March 9, 2015, Solar Impulse 2 took to the skies from the Al Bateen Executive Airport in Abu Dhabi, powered by the same Middle Eastern sunshine relied on by ABB renewables-based projects, such as the Mohammed Bin Rashid solar park in Dubai, the first flight went smoothly.


Solar Impulse journey: Asia

Piccard next took off, from Oman to Ahmedabad, India, setting a new solar aviation distance record in the process. Thousands of sugarcane farmers in India’s Karnataka state already use solar-powered water pumps outfitted with efficient ABB drives, improving quality of life and making communities more sustainable.

The next country reached by Solar Impulse was Myanmar. The landing of the plane, on March 19, was the cue for the celebration of a joint project, managed by ABB and the NPO Pact Myanmar, to establish solar battery charging stations in remote villages in the Tada Oo township. As part of ABB’s “Access to Electricity” program, this project will bring the benefits of renewable energy to local residents for years to come.

After a 10-day stay in Mandalay, the next leg took Solar Impulse into China. The plane overflew Yunnan province where, in Yuxi, ABB has been working since 2014 to provide sophisticated automated control equipment to underpin an ambitious emergency water project to save Fuxian Lake – and the local economy that relies on it. This project, much like Solar Impulse, is making it clear that innovation and technology, when properly deployed, can make the impossible possible.

The critical seventh leg of the journey featured an attempt by Borschberg to make the world’s first transoceanic solar flight, from Nanjing, China, to Hawaii. It would require him to spend five straight days in the cockpit on his way to Hawaii. But, as a blocking cold front materialized along his planned route, he was forced to land at Nagoya, Japan, on June 1. Thanks to the support of ABB employees in Japan, the team was able to erect the mobile hangar in time to protect the plane from heavy rain at the airport.


Solar Impulse journey: America

Borschberg set off on the record-breaking eighth leg of the journey on June 28, staying aloft for almost 5 days before reaching Hawaii. it was only fitting that this unprecedented feat of solar aviation should end in Hawaii, America’s per-capita leader in solar power. The state has made a commitment to derive 100 percent of its power from renewable energy by 2045. To help with this transition, ABB continues to invest in future solutions that could enable Hawaii to integrate solar power into its grid more efficiently

Unfortunately, the aircraft’s batteries overheated en route to Hawaii and would have to be replaced, underscoring the fact that many of the technologies deployed by the project are so new that the mission pushed them to their limits. Because of the time required for repairs and decreasing sunlight due to the changing seasons, the ninth leg of the flight was postponed to the spring of 2016. 

The mission resumed on April 24, 2016, when Bertrand Piccard landed successfully at California’s Moffett Airfield, in the heart of Silicon Valley, after completing a 62-hour trans-Pacific flight from Hawaii.

Solar Impulse, with its digital simulation team analyzing massive streams of data for real-time flight analysis and remote monitoring, is a real-world example of the Internet of Things – a fact not lost on any of its admirers in Silicon Valley. Consequently, ABB hosted a panel of experts – including Solar Impulse’s head of flight simulation – at the Internet of Things World conference in Santa Clara, to discuss how IoT and data analytics are transforming industry. 

Piccard also visited ABB’s Silicon Valley campus in San Jose for an employee event. The stopover in California also served as a strong reminder of the company’s leadership in the solar industry and why ABB is a trusted partner to such leading manufacturers as Sunpower, which provided the solar cells used on Solar Impulse.

From San Francisco, Solar Impulse left for the mid-West on May 3 ,taking in Phoenix Arizona, Tulsa, Oklahoma and Dayton, Ohio, before landing in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, on May 25. By June 11, Solar Impulse has made it to New York City, with Borschberg waggling the aircraft’s wings over the Statue of Liberty before touching down at John F. Kennedy International Airport. This marked the triumphant end of the crossing of the United States, a major portion of its mission. 


Solar Impulse journey: Europe

Piccard returned to the cockpit and completed the world’s first trans-Atlantic solar electric flight on June 23, flying for two days and 23 hours on his way to Seville, Spain. This, the 15th leg of the journey, put the team’s final goal – Abu Dhabi – clearly in sight. 

For a team from ABB Germany, however, the landing in Seville marked the beginning of another journey, in an electric car. Their goal was to drive their EV across six European countries in order to show that what Solar Impulse is doing in the air can also be achieved on the ground, with existing technologies.


Solar Impulse journey: Africa Middle East

By July 2016, the mission was into its final stretch, one that underlined the difficulties of flying in the height of Summer. On July 13, André Borschberg undertook the two-day flight to Cairo, soaring over the Mediterranean Sea and the pyramids before touching down in Egypt, a country where ABB has been active for 90 years, as a trusted partner of a Government committed to transforming the power of the sun into clean electricity.

Taking off from Egypt 13 days later, Piccard braved the extremely high temperatures over the Middle East, to finally achieve his 17 year old dream of an adventure that would combine high altitude exploration with a message that would bring hope to those who believe a clean energy future is something that is in our grasp.

Epilogue

While the mission of Solar Impulse may be complete, for ABB, committed to maintaining its position in the vanguard of change, the journey has just begun. Digitization and sustainability are integral parts of a fourth industrial revolution, and ABB will lead the way, enabling humanity to run the world without consuming the earth.