Episode 19 – Here comes the Sun

Well Techies, I don’t care what the weather report says… Summer is almost here, and things are heating up on Technically Speaking!

Looks like a good day for a solar powered flight!

Looks like a good day for a solar powered flight!

This episode of Technically Speaking is dedicated to one of our favorite pieces of technology: Solar Power! And since we both love aviation, it makes sense for us to start with an exciting project to circumnavigate the globe on solar power! The Swiss R&D Outfit Solar Impulse has just unveiled their 2nd solar powered aircraft, dubbed the HB-SIB. Not exactly the most exciting name, but it has some incredible statistics: Wingspan longer than an A380; Gross Weight lower than a mid-size sedan, and a minimum cruise speed of just 25 knots (~28 mph!). Even more interesting is how similar the design of this aircraft is to certain other aircraft with completely different mission profiles. (And just how in the world can you make a wing that big anyway?) And even though it’s a very slow flight, it’s not “non-stop”, and it’s clearly not a model for how to make airplanes in the future, we still think it’s pretty cool.

And since solar powered cars aren’t really a thing, we move on to the real success story of 2013, which is Rooftop Solar power! With a 26% growth in Solar Power capacity, 2013 turned out to be the biggest year for Photovoltaics in history. Please forgive our ignorance as we venture into a nexus of Engineering and Economics, and try to talk about why Solar Energy is considered by some to be a “disruptive” market force. So disruptive, in fact, that Hawaii’s Solar boom was actually TOO successful, and overwhelmed their “dumb-grid”. And since we strayed a bit from the “Technical”, Jacob tries to bring it back with a little overview of PV systems and how the term “efficiency” gets misused by the media.

Finally, we forego the Brainstorm this week to respond to a little bit of serious listener feedback about Engineering Design and Environmental friendliness. It’s a very interesting and important question: Should we, as Engineers and Product Designers, consider it a “fundamental design philosophy” that no product should knowingly cause harm to people or the environment? Is this a constraint or an ideal? How does it affect our overall design? Is it even possible? We strive to answer this question with as much pragmatism as possible, since many of our colleagues work in industries that are 100% focused on “harming people”.

What do you think? Should Engineers refuse to work on products that harm people or the environment? What can we do to change the direction of product design, to focus more clearly on environmental friendliness? And hey, maybe you don’t buy into all this hippie-nonsense of saving the planet – we want to hear your thoughts as well!

Let us know with an email, a comment on Facebook, a shout-out on Twitter, or a comment below! And if you liked the show and want to keep hearing more, be sure to leave us a review on iTunes!

Run Time: 1:00:18

Music: “Here Comes the Sun” – Performed by Abbey Road

Posted in Episodes