When someone mentions switching to solar power, we often envision photovoltaic panels fixed onto the roof of a house or lined up in a field. When we think of electric vehicles, our minds often jump to cars like the Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt. The idea that solar panels could be used to power electric vehicles is relatively new, but highly advanced designs are already taking this particular type of renewable energy to new heights.
The Solar Impulse is the world’s first airplane to complete an international flight using only solar power, and while it’s a headline grabber, it’s years away from being commercially viable. Now a German company, specializing in ultra-light solar electric planes, seems to be poised to give it a run for its money. PC-Aero’s new and improved Elektra One is a hybrid solar electric plane that can reportedly travel over 600 miles on a single charge.
Developed in conjunction with Solar World, PC Aero’s 440-pound Elektra Solar One uses strategically placed solar panels to provide a trickle of power to the plane’s batteries during flight. The result is an extended range that allows this electric hybrid to compete with the Cessna 172, the world’s most popular passenger/hobby plane. Without the solar panels, the Elektra One’s batteries were capable of four hours or just over 300 miles of flight.
The Elektra One made its first major public appearance at the 2011 EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, Wisconsin (watch video of the demo flight below). The aircraft, along with the solar charging hanger system developed for it by Solar World and PC Aero, went on to take the Lindbergh Prize for Electric Aircraft Vision Award.
With a price tag of $145,000, the price is still half that of most amateur ”hobby” planes, making it idea for private, short-range transportation. Right now, the Elektra One is a single seater aircraft, but many interested in sustainable aviation hope that PC Aero will be able to add some carrying capacity with future iterations. To do so would make zero-emissions air travel possible for thousands of aviation enthusiasts around the world.