BBC Report: Solar Impulse Flight, A Kitty Hawk Moment For Clean Tech?

BBC Report: Solar Impulse Flight, A Kitty Hawk Moment For Clean Tech?

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

On Thursday, May 12th at 3 am PST, the Solar Impulse plane leaves Phoenix, Arizona on the 11th leg of its journey, bound for Tulsa, Oklahoma. Solar Impulse is attempting to fly around the world, powered only by solar energy. It’s now completed over two-third of the epic journey. As well as breaking records for solar flight, this odyssey shines a spotlight on the many business opportunities that clean technologies offer.

Last month, Solar Impulse flew from Hawaii and arrived here in Silicon Valley. I interviewed both pilots at Moffett Field for a BBC World Service Report. Known as “ambassadors for a clean future,” they shared their vision for a cleaner, more efficient future:

I never have enough of flying that plane…when you see those four electrical motors that put the plane in the sky with no noise, no pollution, it’s like a jump into the future. The world cannot continue on combustion engines, badly insulated houses, incandescent light bulbs, outdated systems to distribute the energy…this is last Century. You don’t have to be ecological anymore, just logical!” Bertrand Piccard

Bertrand Piccard interview w Alison van Diggelen for BBC May 2 2016Piccard is Co-Pilot, Explorer and Solar Impulse Chairman. He’s also a psychiatrist, and a United Nations Environmental Program Goodwill Ambassador.

“We had to build an aircraft that was extremely energy efficient. It’s all about energy efficiency. This efficiency is extremely important on the ground as well. If we would use the technologies now on board this airplane, we could reduce our energy consumptions by at least 50%.” Andre Borschberg

Andre Borschberg & Alison van Diggelen Hangar One Moffett Field for BBC, Photo by Fresh DialoguesAndre Borchberg is Co-Pilot, MIT Engineer and Solar Impulse CEO

On May 10th, my report aired on the BBC World Service program, Business Matters and I was invited to share some more juicy details on the live show. My report was selected as a special Audio Clip: Listen here

Listen to the BBC podcast of the report and discussion here (May 9th podcast titled “Duterte Claims Victory” @26:50).

Here’s a transcript of the discussion (edited for length and clarity):

BBC Host, Fergus Nicoll:  After an unexpected nine-month delay, a solar-powered aircraft aiming to complete a round-the-world voyage is back in business. Check out their website … it’s got a snappy update for you on the front page – “We are in Phoenix!” Alison has prepared a report for us – talking to the two pilots who’ve been steering this epic journey so far.  – so Alison before we play in the piece, set the ground for us – where did you meet the team – what have they achieved so far – and why the big delay?

Alison van Diggelen: It’s a very interesting story, especially if you cover clean tech. Last Monday, I got up at 3 am to watch the Solar Impulse take off from Moffett Field here in SV, bound for Phoenix AZ. I talked with the two pilots who take turns on each flight. They’re attempting to fly around the world, powered entirely by solar energy. They left Abu Dhabi in March 2015, and are two-thirds of their way around.

Bertrand Piccard, one of the pilots told me: you don’t change the world with just an idealistic approach, you change the world if you have practical & profitable solutions. So they’re really pushing this clean energy, energy consumption message. They say we could reduce our energy consumption here by over 50% if we used the clean energy and energy efficiency techniques on that airplane.  One of biggest potential business opportunities is solar powered airplanes replacing satellites in the sky

BBC Report: Solar Impulse Plane Brings Clean Tech Message Around World 

By Alison van Diggelen

Ambi on runway at Moffett Field, Silicon Valley

Elke Neumann : Clearance from the tower

Alison van Diggelen: The propellers are starting very slowly, but they’re about to take off…you can hear the propellers….It’s in the air…

Elke Neumann: It’s in the air. Woo hooo hooo!

Alison van Diggelen: All we can see is a line of lights in the sky and it looks like it’s barely moving, just floating there, about 1000 feet off the runway.

Last week, the Solar Impulse plane took off from Moffett Field in SV. Its mission is to fly around the world, powered only by solar energy. It’s now completed about 2/3rds of that journey, flying from Abu Dhabi across Asia to Hawaii last year. The team plans to reach NY by June and cross the Atlantic this summer.

The plane has the weight of a family car, but the wingspan of a 747, covered with 17,000 solar panels. I talked with Bertrand Piccard, a Swiss explorer and one of the two pilots who’s taking turns in the cockpit.

Bertrand Piccard: I never have enough of flying that plane…when you see those 4 electrical motors that put the plane in the sky with no noise, no pollution, it’s like a jump into the future. Thanks to new technologies, the future is already today.

Alison van Diggelen: What for you is the biggest game changer?

Bertrand Piccard: The world cannot continue on combustion engines, badly insulated houses, incandescent light bulbs, outdated systems to distribute the energy…this is last Century. It’s not only about protecting the environment, it’s a lot about making money, new industrial markets, economic development, profit, job creation. These clean techs can be used for electrical mobility, LED lights, smartgrids. It’s a complete demonstration of everything we need in our society…. Maybe Solar Impulse is a way to try to overcome the resistance of the dinosaurs who have not yet understood where the future is.

Bertrand Piccard: What do you say to these naysayers?

Bertrand Piccard: I tell them: be really careful because innovation does not come from inside the system. It’s not the people selling the candles who invented the lightbulb. What you’re doing now will be replaced. If you want to innovate be a pioneer… change your way of thinking. Dinosaurs disappear, they were the strongest one, but the less flexible one to adaptation.

Alison van Diggelen: Andre Borschberg, piloted the Japan to Hawaii flight, an epic 5 day, 5 night journey. He explains that Solar Impulse is like a “laboratory in the sky” and is excited about its multiple tech spinoffs.

Paige Kassalen interview w Alison van Diggelen for BBC Solar Impulse

Paige Kassalen is part of the Solar Impulse ground crew and works for Covestro, one of the clean tech companies developing lightweight, high efficiency solutions for the “flying laboratory.”

Borschberg: What we have today is an airplane which can fly day and night, a week, a month, non stop …It’s totally sustainable in terms of energy, the limiting factor is the pilot… If we make it unmanned, an airplane can fly in stratosphere (above the bad weather) for 6 months, potentially replacing what satellites are doing, but cheaper in a flexible way…no pollution of space.

Alison van Diggelen: What made the journey even possible?

Andre Borschberg: We had to build an aircraft that was extremely energy efficient. This efficiency is extremely important on the ground as well. If we would use the technologies now on board this airplane, we could reduce our energy use by at least 50%. As it continues on its journey, the Solar Impulse team is striving to change the world, not just of aviation but of energy and communications too. You could call it a Kitty Hawk moment for the 21st Century.

Fergus Nicoll: I want to pick up on one or two of these ideas, the spinoff tech…start off with this amazing idea: the solar drones, solar powered unmanned vehicles in the stratosphere, a kind of neo-satellite…

Alison van Diggelen: That’s right. It was amazing to re-think satellites. Satellites cost up to $100M to produce, and then to launch them, it’s another $50M. So if you could do the same with a solar powered airplane, then there are huge cost savings available. Not only cost, but flexibility. These satellites go up for 7, maybe 15 years maximum, but two years into their journeys, the technology is old, whereas these solar powered airplanes could come down after six months and get repaired if necessary and get the latest technology fitted to them. So there’s all sorts of applications like GPS navigation, communications…observations: deforestation,  climate change monitoring. They’ll probably have to make these solar airplanes even bigger to carry the massive payload.

Fergus Nicoll: Are other companies in Silicon Valley and elsewhere watching this…to see what they can spinoff themselves?

Alison van Diggelen: Yes, in fact the solar panels – the 17,000 panels – on the planes wings are made by a Silicon Valley company, and I know of at least one other Silicon Valley solar company that would rather be on the wings. So I think this whole project is a catalyst for companies to say: hey, we want to be the No. 1, the most lightweight, the most efficient solar panel. The “flying laboratory” is stimulating other companies because it’s shining a spotlight on these clean technologies.

Find out about more cutting edge technologies: Hyperloop seeking a Kitty Hawk Moment

More BBC Reports and BBC Dialogues on Tesla, Women in Tech, The US Election and much more…

Apple’s Insanely Solar Deal: 3 Reasons It Makes Sense

Apple’s Insanely Solar Deal: 3 Reasons It Makes Sense

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

In announcing a massive, unprecedented investment in solar power by a private company, Apple’s Tim Cook said yesterday in San Francisco,

“We know in Apple that climate change is real. The time for talk is passed…The time for action is now.”

Here are three reasons the $850 M solar deal with First Solar makes sense:

1. Money saving: Apple signed a 25 year purchase power agreement which will guarantee the tech company a fixed price for solar power, under the market price for energy in California. Solar prices have declined dramatically in the last 40 years (today’s panels are 100 times cheaper than in 1977) and Apple has timed its agreement to profit from this trend.

“We expect to have a very significant savings because we have a fixed price for the renewable energy, and there’s quite a difference between that price and the price of brown energy,” Cook said.

2. Green Halo Effect: Not only will Apple benefit from a “greener than thou” reputation from their existing fans, but will inevitably attract more environmentally conscious consumers, especially Millennials who care deeply how their tech gadgets and the cloud’s data centers are powered. This will help in its battle with arch rival Samsung which it ridiculed last year in a hard hitting ad campaign.

In addition, in the race to attract and retain the top tech talent in Silicon Valley, Apple’s “green reputation” will be powerful.

The stock market liked this green halo effect and sent shares up almost 2% to history making market cap of over $720B.

“Other Fortune 500 CEOs would be well served to make a study of Tim Cook,” Greenpeace said in a statement.

3. Pioneer for Climate Change: Last year, Tim Cook famously told climate skeptics at an Apple shareholder meeting to “get out of Apple stock” if they don’t like his clean energy strategy.  His visible passion on the issue revealed how strongly he feels about climate change and his commitment to reduce Apple’s carbon footprint.

“I want leave the world better than we found it,” said Tim Cook.

Under Cook’s leadership, Apple has forged ahead strongly with plans to get 100% of its energy from renewable sources. A massive data center in North Carolina is powered by huge solar farms and Bloom Energy’s fuel cells. I anticipate that Silicon Valley’s Bloom Energy will also be part of Apple’s new clean power strategy in California (check back soon for updates).

Apple’s trend-setting, clean energy market making reputation is already impacting other tech companies such as Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo and Amazon, although Google gets the greenest star for its early action and massive investment in clean energy of over $1.5B.

Read more about Apple’s Green Halo and its battle with Samsung (BBC conversation)

How a clever Greenpeace campaign helped green Apple’s iCloud (KQED report)

More clean energy and cleantech stories

Tom Brokaw: Climate Change is Real

Tom Brokaw: Climate Change is Real

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Days before the Global Climate Conference in Durban South Africa, NBC’s Special Correspondent Tom Brokaw delivered a  strong message in  Silicon Valley for those who deny climate change. “It’s real, we see it in our weather systems,” he said and made a somber call to action, saying everyone needs to take a part. Brokaw, who has hosted two documentaries about global warming for the Discovery Channel, says he’s planning an expedition to Antarctica with a team of climate scientists to record the glacial melting next January.

Brokaw cited carbon based fuels and energy consumption as major issues, and stopped short of making specific policy recommendations, but said that the Obama administration missed a valuable opportunity to do something substantial about energy and jobs. “People could have got allied with that,” he added.

He acknowledged his part in contributing to the problem (long commutes in polluting LA traffic to visit his beloved mother), but is now doing what he can to be greener. He recently adopted solar in his Montana Ranch, recouping his capital investment in only three years. In this intimate video, he waxes lyrical about the piping hot water and heating system – even during long Montana winters.

Brokaw ended on an upbeat note, saying that he thinks the younger generation will change things for the better.

The video was recorded on November 21st, 2011 at the Commonwealth Club  in Silicon Valley, moderated by KGO TV’s Dan Ashley. Brokaw is promoting his new oeuvre The Time of Our Lives, a conversation about America; Who we are, where we’ve been, and where we need to go now, to recapture the American Dream.

Read transcriptssee photos and check out exclusive interviews on Fresh Dialogues with Charlie Rose, Tom Friedman, Paul Krugman, Vinod Khosla and many others

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Working @Google: Green Carrots & Pogo Sticks

Working @Google: Green Carrots & Pogo Sticks

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

How is Google greening its growing army of Googlers, on and off campus? Biodiesel buses, Google bikes…pogo sticks anyone?

I sat down with Parag Chokshi, Google’s Clean Energy Public Affairs Manager this summer and he explained some of Google’s employee incentives and green practices. Did you know that if you get to the Googleplex under your own steam – walking, running, biking…or on your pogo stick, Google will donate to a charity of your choice? And if you can’t bear to move from your cool pad in San Fran, and the thought of 36 miles on a pogo stick seems a stretch, Google will transport you to work  in one of its special biodiesel buses. Wifi equipped of course.

There’s even a sizeable organic vegetable garden on the campus, so if you fancy getting dirt under your finger nails and communing with Mother Earth, Google’s your place.

Of course, Google also fanfares the usual green suspects:

solar power (one of the largest commercial installations in the Bay Area at 1.6 MW or 30% of the complex’s peak power use);

Bloom Energy Boxes (Google was one of the first customers for this efficient fuel cell power source);

and the ubiquitous compostable cups, plates and cutlery.

But if you think working at Google is just one green Kumbaya center, remember it’s not just a holiday camp…Pay maybe the highest average in the tech industry (2011 Payscale Report) but according to anecdotal evidence and Google’s own job descriptions, expect a high-stress startup environment and the bureaucratic issues typical of any fast growing big company.

Check out the video:


Find out more about Google’s Green Dream and other Google video interviews

Check out the Fresh Dialogues YouTube Channel

And our Archive of Interviews on Green Education

Science Friday Host: Japan’s Nuclear Disaster – An Opportunity

Science Friday Host: Japan’s Nuclear Disaster – An Opportunity

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Ira Flatow, the exuberant host of NPR’s Science Friday came to Silicon Valley this week. At a reception for KQED at the St. Claire Hotel Atrium in downtown San Jose, Ira took the stage for an animated conversation with Andrea Kissack, Senior Editor of KQED’s QUEST. Here are some of the highlights:

On Japan’s nuclear disaster

“This is an opportunity to build something new – infrastructure for solar thermal (power plants) for example, or wind power…we could be the Saudi Arabia of Wind. Why do you need one solution? We should look at science – see the biodiversity lesson.”

On nuclear power

“Japan was ‘prepared’ but didn’t plan for the Perfect Storm. Nature will find a way to outsmart us.”

On Global Warming

“Over 50% of incoming Republicans don’t ‘believe’ in global warming. The great majority of scientists AGREE on global warming…we don’t talk about ‘the debate’ on Science Friday. Should you bring creationists in to debate evolution? Or have a debate that the world is not flat?”

On Clean Energy and California

“We look to California as a leader in clean energy. We have to get over cheap gas and pay the real value of gas. We expect $2 a gallon while Europe is paying $10.”

How to change the energy status quo?

“If you want change, you have to DEMAND IT. Like in the 60’s. You can’t change people’s minds if they’re entrenched. With Global Warming however, change is happening and the evidence of melting ice is visible.”

On Science Education

“All kids are natural scientists – they need good teachers and mentors to nurture it.”

I was surprised to learn that Science Friday gets only 10% of its budget from NPR. The remainder it has to raise through fundraising. If you enjoy Science Friday and want to learn more about supporting it, check out this link.

For other Fresh Dialogues interviews with an education focus, click here

Here’s an interview with Ocean Scientist, Robert Ballard

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