A new Crystal Cabin Award winner from innovative interiors components manufacturer B/E Aerospace, could soon recharge our personal electronic devices in-flight by making the most of the limitless power of the sun.
The inventors of the Solar Eclipse, a solar-powered window shade with USB power outlets, shine light on the growing problem of demand for power supply in aviation.
Most of us travel with at least one personal electronic device—a good portion of us travel with two or more devices. We rely on these treasured gadgets to communicate and to be entertained throughout the journey. The growing availability of Wi-Fi service on aircraft and/or wireless entertainment offered by airlines compounds this problem, and there are never enough chargers at airports to go around. Besides, when we are at the terminal we’re often rushing to get from gate to gate and have to time to sit still waiting for devices to charge.
Airlines have introduced new seats with power outlets in premium classes and some have installed power outlets in seats throughout the plane. But on existing aircraft, not already equipped with these newer seats, or wired adequately to provide the necessary power supply, installing power outlets in the cabin can be a complex certification mess.
“The Solar Eclipse brings DC power directly to passengers where no power exists,” states B/E Aerospace in its brief to the judges of the Crystal Cabin Awards which awarded the Solar Eclipse the top prize in the Greener Cabin category. “Super efficient thin film solar cells integrated into the window shade convert the high-solar irradiation available at altitude into 8-44 watts of energy.”
As a result, B/E argues, Solar Eclipse avoids passengers suffering through what it calls “battery anxiety.”
This high-tech window shade is as easy for airline technicians to install as any other ordinary aircraft window shade would be. It requires no change to the rest of the cabin components, making it a quick power supply option for airlines to choose. It also weighs only slightly more than an ordinary window shade (29-50 grams). B/E Aerospace claims the Solar Eclipse will actually “generate more energy than the extra fuel required” to carry it. On a single 737 making six 1000 nautical mile trips everyday the Solar Eclipse would yield a savings of around $22,000, fuel savings of over 7300 gallons per year, and reduce 154,000 pounds of CO2 emissions.
Without wanting to put too much emphasis on the cloud in this silver lining, the main challenge of the Solar Eclipse (for airlines and passengers alike) is deciding who benefits from all this free power. Passengers seated by a Solar Eclipse window could choose to be nice and share with the rest of the class. Airlines could also choose to charge more for the window seat, leading to the rise of a new ELite class in the Economy section.
As Voltaire said, with great power comes great responsibility. Now that the Crystal Cabin panel of judges have given this Eco-Friendly solution the recognition it deserves, B/E Aerospace and its airline customers will be tasked with solving that little quandary.