Solar Power Coming To Airplane Windows?

No, the idea isn’t to power commercial air travel with photovoltaic solar – that’s being left that to super-lightweight, experimental efforts like Solar Impulse.

Nevertheless, a French collaboration this week plans to unveil a new way of bringing solar power to aircraft, with a photovoltaic window. The pitch is that it can automatically adjust the amount of light shining into the airplane without any complicated connection to the plane’s electrical system, while also potentially producing and storing energy that can be used for lighting and charging.

solar powered airplane window

image via Vision Systems Aeuronautics

The solar-powered airplane window comes from Vision Systems Aeronautics, working with SunPartner Technologies and its product called Wysips Glass.

Wysips – that’s “What You See Is Photovoltaic Surface” – has actually been bubbling along for a few years with the promise of integration onto the touchscreen face of mobile devices to provide never-ending power.

That incarnation of the technology works by layering a thin, photovoltaic surface with a network of micro-lenses, which renders the crystal PV cells invisible. Folks at Engadget who tested the mobile-device technology earlier this year seemed to suggest the not-quite-transparent transparency and fairly scant charging ability still left something to be desired. The company, continuing to work to improve the technology, “is optimistic that Wysips Crystal will be ready for prime time at some point next year,” according to a new post on the Smithsonian Innovations blog.

Wysips Glass, meanwhile, promises 60-90 percent transparency, with up to 30 watts per square meter of power production. That’s more than enough power, Vision Systems says, to allow the electronically dimmable windows to run on their own.

“Drawing its electricity directly from either solar or artificial light, Energia no longer needs to be connected to the aircraft’s electrical system, saving money on the miles of cabling and hours of maintenance with traditional systems,” the company says. The diagram of the window provided by Vision Systems indicates a battery to store energy, which apparently could be used to plug in and charge.

The trade will get a chance to scope out the product this week when it’s unveiled at the National Business Aviation Association trade show in Las Vegas.

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.