Currently, solar cells reach around 20 to 25% energy efficiency. Even if technological advancement made it possible to push this to 100%, which at this stage can be considered near impossible, the energy provided by the sun would still fall short by a factor of 40, even for smaller plane models. All this is not to say that experiments like the Solar Impulse are a waste of (solar) energy and resources. However, the fact that they, more often than not, receive incomplete media coverage makes it so that they serve as a diversion rather than a contribution to solving the real issue; aviation cannot keep growing.
A number to which any aviation associate will ardently allude, is the mere 2 percent of global CO2 emissions for which their sector is responsible. A misleadingly low number for a plethora of reasons. Even taking into account improvements in fuel efficiency, emissions of European aviation are forecast to have doubled by 2050. And if you thought the expected growth of Europe’s aviation sector seemed excessive and impossible to rhyme with climate goals, Asia is going to be the same but on steroids. With India and China housing over 35% of the global population, out of which the largest part has yet to take their first flight, global aviation might soon crush any chance at preventing an ecological catastrophe.
“Whereas in 2008 European banks were deemed “too big to fail”, the corona crisis has shown that national airlines also exist on this list…”
Whereas in 2008 European banks were deemed “too big to fail”, the corona crisis has shown that national airlines also exist on this list as governments jump in to save their respective air carriers. An optimist might see current events as a wake-up call, perhaps even a as a chance to change things before it is definitely too late. With most airlines and tourism companies technically being bankrupt already, now is a pivotal and unique chance to reevaluate our sky-spoiling, city-centre wrecking habits. Why save airlines if you could save the planet?
First published Online. April 2020. Volume 15, Issue 3. Painting by Ken Jolly (2017)