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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

Solar Impulse is showing the world what is possible

Majid Al Suwaidi writes on Solar Impulse, and the broader impact its journeys are making
The Solar Impulse 2 aircraft soared Tuesday on the second day of its marathon flight across the Atlantic, one of the most challenging legs of its historic sun-powered journey around the world. AFP Photo
The Solar Impulse 2 aircraft soared Tuesday on the second day of its marathon flight across the Atlantic, one of the most challenging legs of its historic sun-powered journey around the world. AFP Photo

I was proud to witness Solar Impulse 2 take off from New York on the next leg of its groundbreaking flight. The city was the most recent stop in a journey that started in my home city, Abu Dhabi, and we are honoured to be the base city and a partner.

Similar in spirit to John F Kennedy’s bold call for advancements in science and space exploration, Solar Impulse is showing the world what can be accomplished when vision and determination meet technological expertise and innovation.

We also see this spirit in the forward-looking vision of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, when he notes: “The future ... calls upon us to embark on a perpetual quest for alternative sources of energy ... This can only be done through the support of relevant scientific research.”

In that context, Solar Impulse is a natural fit for the UAE. Our Government is driving a massive transformation of our economy, allocating billions of dollars to development, particularly in future energy technologies. Masdar, our commercially driven renewable energy company, is a driving force here, and is advancing the development and deployment of renewable energy solutions and clean technologies.

Beyond the flight itself, the Solar Impulse project is a story about optimism and an example of how human ingenuity can solve our greatest challenges.

With the backing of the UAE, Solar Impulse’s partners have pushed the boundaries of their own R&D to make the project a reality. They used the flight as a technological development platform, testing out solutions with the objective of commercialising them. Two important solutions to protect the solar panels from harsh flight conditions without altering the capture of energy are already implemented outside of this project. And the technology developed to improve the energy density of Solar Impulse’s lithium-polymer batteries has already trickled down to commercial use in electronics and the car industry. These examples illustrate how innovation today will drive advances tomorrow.

In many ways, Solar Impulse reflects the broader work the UAE is doing to advance sustainability. We set the first renewable energy targets in the Middle East and implemented an open bidding process to help achieve them. Last year, we set the world record low for solar power costs, below the cost of natural gas, proving that renewables are affordable. Masdar moreover sees this business case globally in its projects, from the world’s largest wind farm in the UK to a solar plant in Tonga that busted myths about the ability of small grids to handle large shares of renewables.

Partnerships are also driving advances in sustainability and clean energy technology. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has played a key role in the development of Abu Dhabi’s Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, the world’s first graduate-level university dedicated to providing real-world solutions to issues of sustainability. Masdar Institute, which recently celebrated its sixth commencement, is working with the US department of energy and US firms such as GE and Lockheed Martin to produce products and research, including on renewables-powered desalination and carbon capture and storage.

The UAE is also seeking solutions at the global level. In 2010, the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) established its headquarters in the UAE, creating a hub for partnerships. And at the 2015 climate change conference in Paris, the UAE pledged to generate 24 per cent of its electricity from clean energy sources by 2021.

It’s in this spirit that the UAE is proud to be a part of Solar Impulse, and as the team tracks across the Atlantic and beyond I’ll be closely following their flight path.

More than simply navigating the skies, Solar Impulse is spotlighting the breakneck speed of innovation – and helping write the world’s next chapter in sustainability.

Majid Al Suwaidi is the UAE Consul General in New York