SunPower isn’t just powering roofs and solar farms these days. The company, which touts its solar panels as the most durable and efficient on the market, is looking at other applications. I’d be hard pressed to find one as awesome as the upcoming Mission SolarStratos expedition which will be powered by its 22-24% efficient Maxeon™ solar cells.

The SolarStratos is an electric plane that has the flight characteristics of a low drag glider. It has extremely long thin wings and a very small profile.  However it is outfitted with an electric motor, a very efficient front propeller, and wings and tail covered with around 24 square meters of solar panels. Inside fit up to 2 pilots in fighter configuration and what appears to be a 20kWh battery (nearly the same size as the 125 mile Hyundai IONIQ).

Interestingly this plane will not be pressurized, requiring the pilots to wear space suits that are also powered by the energy from the solar panels and stored in the battery.

Some stats from the press release (below):

  • Length: 8.5 meters – about 30 feet, or the distance from the end zone to the 10-yard line on an American football field
  • Wingspan: 24.8 meters – about 81 feet, or the length of two standard city buses
  • Weight: 450 kilograms – about as heavy as a grand piano; to make SolarStratos its lightest, the cabin will not be pressurized, requiring pilots to wear astronaut suits that are pressurized by solar energy
  • Engine: 32-kilowatt electrical engine, about one-third the size of what would power an electric vehicle
  • Energy: 22 square meters of SunPower Maxeon solar cells, each reaching 22 to 24 percent efficiency
  • Batteries: One 20-kilowatt lithium ion battery
  • Autonomy: Self-generates electricity with solar to power the plane for more than 12 hours

Electrek’s take:

SunPower has been part of the solar industry consolidation of late amid lower profits, tax uncertainty and squeezing margins. Pairing up with SolarStratos is likely more marketing than actual new business model, however.

That said, and the reason it is interesting to us, is that we’re slowly moving toward electric powered flight being a reality for long haul aviation. Right now, electric aviation is limited to short flights with limited cargo but with improving battery technologies, stronger, lighter building materials and theoretically solar wings, range could be improved to where electric flight makes sense for many more applications.

Solar panels as thin as a hair, almost weightless and durable that can deliver 22-24% efficiency are an important part of that mix.

If this thing can get up to 60,000 feet and fly all day, we’re on our way.

SAN JOSE, Calif., June 20, 2018 /PRNewswire/ — SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWR), one of the world’s most innovative and sustainable energy companies headquartered in California’s Silicon Valley, has joined the Mission SolarStratos expedition as the exclusive solar cell provider for its aircraft. Within the next two years, SolarStratos is expected to be the first solar-powered plane to soar above the Earth’s troposphere and into the stratosphere – flying twice as high as a commercial airliner’s typical cruising altitude – without a drop of fossil fuel.

“SolarStratos has an opportunity to push the limits of what we think is humanly possible and prove that renewable energy has the capacity to power our lives while preserving our planet,” said SolarStratos President and Pilot Raphael Domjan. “We are fortunate to energize SolarStratos with SunPower’s industry-leading solar technology and look forward to further showcasing the value of innovative and reliable solar solutions for the world to see.”

A passionate, award-winning adventurer with experience bringing record-breaking projects to fruition, Domjan was the founder and the expedition leader of PlanetSolar – also powered by SunPower solar technology – which became the first boat to sail around the world on solar energy alone in 2012. This September, Domjan will attempt his first world-record flight, reaching 33,000 feet in a SolarStratos prototype plane.

SunPower® Maxeon® solar cells were selected for SolarStratos aircrafts because they are highly efficient, durable, lightweight, and about as thin as a human hair. On the next generation SolarStratos plane, SunPower’s 24-percent efficient cells will be incorporated into the wings and horizontal stabilizer to power an electrical engine and charge a 20-kilowatt hour (kWh) lithium-ion battery for energy supply when the sun is out of sight.

Next Generation SolarStratos Plane at a Glance   

  • Length: 8.5 meters – about 30 feet, or the distance from the end zone to the 10-yard line on an American football field
  • Wingspan: 24.8 meters – about 81 feet, or the length of two standard city buses
  • Weight: 450 kilograms – about as heavy as a grand piano; to make SolarStratos its lightest, the cabin will not be pressurized, requiring pilots to wear astronaut suits that are pressurized by solar energy
  • Engine: 32-kilowatt electrical engine, about one-third the size of what would power an electric vehicle
  • Energy: 22 square meters of SunPower Maxeon solar cells, each reaching 22 to 24 percent efficiency
  • Batteries: One 20-kilowatt lithium ion battery
  • Autonomy: Self-generates electricity with solar to power the plane for more than 12 hours

“Soaring at such heights requires an unprecedented level of solar performance and durability, making SunPower’s unique solar technology a natural choice for SolarStratos,” said Tom Werner, SunPower CEO and chairman of the board. “The plane features the same extraordinary cells as those found in our high efficiency solar panels powering homes and businesses here on land – a true testament to our innovation as a solar leader.”

In addition to supporting SolarStratos and the solar boat PlanetSolar, SunPower has a pioneering legacy of powering unique solar projects. In 1993, SunPower’s high-efficiency solar cells drove a Honda solar car to win the World Solar Challenge from Darwin to Adelaide in Australia a full day ahead of the second-place finisher. The company also worked with NASA to develop the unmanned Helios solar plane that flew to a record altitude of 96,863 feet, also powered by SunPower high-efficiency solar cells. Most recently, SunPower helped Solar Impulse 2 – a single-seater solar plane – complete its groundbreaking flight around the world with zero fuel, the first for an aircraft of its kind.

About SunPower As one of the world’s most innovative and sustainable energy companies, SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWR) provides a diverse group of customers with complete solar solutions and services. Residential customers, businesses, governments, schools and utilities around the globe rely on SunPower’s more than 30 years of proven experience. From the first flip of the switch, SunPower delivers maximum value and superb performance throughout the long life of every solar system. Headquartered in Silicon Valley, SunPower has dedicated, customer-focused employees in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and North and South America. For more information about how SunPower is changing the way our world is powered, visit www.sunpower.com.

SunPower’s Forward-Looking Statements This press release contains “forward-looking statements” within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995, including, but not limited to, statements regarding projected energy output, product performance and efficiency, and project plans and timeline. These forward-looking statements are based on our current assumptions, expectations, and beliefs and involve substantial risks and uncertainties that may cause results, performance, or achievement to materially differ from those expressed or implied by these forward-looking statements. Factors that could cause or contribute to such differences include, but are not limited to: regulatory changes and the availability of economic incentives promoting use of solar energy, competition and market conditions in the solar and general energy industry, and fluctuations or declines in the performance of our solar panels and other products and solutions. A detailed discussion of these factors and other risks that affect our business is included in filings we make with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) from time to time, including our most recent reports on Forms 10-K and 10-Q, particularly under the heading “Risk Factors.” A copy of this filing is available online from the SEC or on the SEC Filings section of our Investor Relations website at investors.sunpowercorp.com. All forward-looking statements in this press release are based on information currently available to us, and we assume no obligation to update these forward-looking statements in light of new information or future events.

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