According to Expedia I can pick up a one way ticket from Nanjing in China to Heathrow, London for around £700 for a flight leaving tomorrow. The shortest flight available is around 18 hours and this will require me to change plane twice. This is what we can achieve as a result of the energy dense properties of kerosene and the innovations of Frank Whittle and Boeing.
Meanwhile, an adventurer by the name of Andre Borschberg is on a round the world trip on a solar powered plane. This is supposed to inspire us.
But why does it?
According to the BBC, his journey kicked off in Abu Dhabi on the 9th of March. That was four months ago. Right now the plane has got as far as Hawaii. Half way there, then.
But, not for the first time, it has run into problems. Solar Impulse has been grounded for 2-3 weeks to repair the batteries. This means that it is unlikely the plane will complete its goal of flying round the world this year.
How inspiring. Just think. A Boeing 747 could fly around the world a few times while Solar Impulse is grounded. Not only that, but a Boeing 747 does the following: it can fly from Los Angeles to London non-stop, take on fuel, and fly back; and then repeat and repeat and repeat and occasionally be grounded for a while for some engine checks. The Boeing 747 is a wonder of modern engineering.
In contrast, the Solar Impulse is a disaster, flying one man around the planet in the space of a single year.This feat also requires the pilot to experience significant physical strain; whereas, a Boeing 747 requires nothing more straining than watching a regrettable Adam Sandler film.
Solar Impulse, then, is not a symbol of the potential of solar power, but of its limitations.