Conquering the Desert on Solar Power

André Borschberg dodged thunderstorms, overflew the Atlas Mountains, and made his way from Quarzazate to Rabat, Morocco, reversing the course he took last week to the interior of this desert country.

While there, he had a week of celebrations and ceremonial gatherings in honor of what will be the world’s largest solar-thermal power plant.  The presence of Solar Impulse, the gigantic, sun-borne aircraft undoubtedly served as a reminder of what such technology can accomplish.

As the travel films say, "A land of contrasts." Photo: Jean Revillard/Solar Impulse

Taking off at 7:33 a. m. local time from Quarzazate, Borschberg held course toward Marrakesh on the coast.  Afternoon brought thunderstorms, heavy winds, and thermals.  To avoid a landing in such conditions, the pilot flew a holding pattern between Marrakesh and Rabat and waited for sunset.  Ending his 14 hour, 49 minute flight, he landed at 10:22 p. m. local time.

The flight averaged 64.82 kilometers per hour (40.19 mph) at an average altitude of 4,000 meters (13,132 feet) on its 457 kilometer (283.3 miles) flight (projected distance – actual flight time and distance covering much more ground).  Compared to the tense, all hands on deck atmosphere of the two flights (the first failing to reach its destination) to Quarzazate, the return seemed more relaxed, with fewer, happier personnel in the Payerne, Switzerland control room.

HB-SIA will stay in Rabat for its 50-hour checkup, then will fly to Madrid and then back to its home base at Payerne, where a more advanced HB-SIB is taking shape to take on even bigger challenges.

Crossing miles of desert, years of history. Photo: Jean Revillard/Solar Impulse

The Solar Impulse press release explains the importance of this mission.  “Ouarzazate is the construction site of what will be the world’s largest thermo-solar power plant, expected to produce 160 megawatts during its first phase and 500MW by 2015. The plant is based on concentrating solar power (CSP) technology using parabolic trough solar collectors with heat storage; it will be the largest of its kind. The Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (Masen) and Solar Impulse share a common message, which is why Ouarzazate had always been the desired destination of the 2012 Crossing Frontiers mission. Both are engaged to invest in innovative projects today for job creation and sustainable growth while also protecting the environment. Just after take-off, André Borschberg made a loop around the construction site as a way to honor Morocco’s innovative project and give one last farewell before returning to the country’s capital city.”

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