Solar Impulse and ABB arrive in New York: pioneering spirit that never sleeps

The Solar Impulse message is reflected by the pioneering spirit of ABB, and its significant contribution to increased energy efficiency.

In Solar Impulse terms, the flight to New York was just a short hop from Pennsylvania (4 hours is no great shakes for a plane that’s managed 117 hours of continuous flight), but it took two attempts. Worsening weather on Tuesday had meant that the first try had to be aborted at the very last minute, with the entire team (as well as a host of partners and supporters) forced to wait on standby until Saturday the 11th, when the solar-powered plane finally made it to New York’s famous JFK Airport, taking in the sights on its way.

This marked the culmination of a major portion of the Solar Impulse around-the-world mission: the crossing of the USA. These American flights, which began in Hawaii, have come at a time when ABB has never been stronger in North America, multiplying its presence and activities and emerging as a major industrial player on the continent. Solar Impulse has inspired people across the country to believe that seemingly insurmountable problems can be solved with a combination of the right mind-set and a mastery of technology; ABB has shown that this pioneering approach is at the heart of all the company’s activities.

Solar Impulse has flown over states and cities that have benefited from ABB’s pioneering technology. helping to reduce waste, improve energy efficiency and prove that renewable energies are viable power sources. The starting point of the US crossing was Hawaii, a state with an aggressive policy of reducing dependence on fossil fuels. To do so it will need the technology to allow it to safely integrate renewables sources, particularly solar. ABB is a global leader in microgrid technology, allowing islanded communities to become more energy independent and produce electricity from multiple sources.

From Hawaii, Solar Impulse embarked on a flight to Moffett Airfield in the Silicon Valley region South of San Francisco. To get there, Bertrand Piccard flew several days and nights using only solar generators and stored energy. This feat would have been impossible without the assistance of the project’s Mission Control Center in Monaco, and the internet-based smart software developed by the flight simulation team. As Laurie Tolson, from ABB Enterprise Software, puts it, the Solar Impulse software diverts energy to where it’s needed. In industry, ABB’s solutions do the same thing, monitoring machinery, predicting performance, increasing energy efficiency and reducing waste.

The California stopover also provided a reminder of ABB’s leadership in the solar industry, and why the company is a  trusted partner to leading solar panel manufacturers such as Sunpower, which provided the solar cells found on the wings and fuselage of Solar Impulse.

As Solar Impulse started to make its way East it flew over the Mid-West, not far from Jefferson City, Missouri, home to ABB’s biggest transformer manufacturing site. ABB, in its various iterations, has long been one of the world’s biggest makers of transformers, the workhorse of the electricity industry. Whilst the basic principle of the transformer has remained the same since the late nineteenth century, constant innovation is required in order to maintain this pre-eminent position, especially now when more and more renewable energy sources are coming into play. At Jefferson City, the team is seeing a growing demand for transformers designed specifically for solar and wind farms, and able to cope with the unpredictable nature of renewable energy.

In all, there are over 60 ABB manufacturing sites in the US, with over 20’000 employees working in a host of different ways to drive energy efficiency, responding to growing fears of climate change with technological solutions. On the East Coast the intellectual challenges posed by the shift in energy production are being met at the ABB Smart Grid Center for Excellence, sited at North Carolina State University, whilst in Pennsylvania, the staging post for the long-awaited flight to New York’s JFK Airport, the Measurement & Analytics team are playing an important role in the monitoring of harmful emissions, allowing companies and municipalities to operate more efficiently and safely, with less environmental impact.

Since the second part of the around-the-world mission began back in April, we have seen the many ways in which ABB and Solar Impulse are a perfect fit, and why our joint innovation and technology alliance makes perfect sense. At its heart are the ABB employees, who have shown a pioneering mind-set and a belief that we can build a better world. One particularly visible employee has been Irish electrical engineer Eoin Caldwell. He has been embedded within the Solar Impulse ground crew since the beginning of the year, sharing his considerable expertise and making sure there is a reliable power supply to the inflatable mobile hangar, used to house the plane when no tents or fixed hangar is available.

Eoin regularly posts photos and videos on social media and will continue to share his experiences of living and working in close proximity to Solar Impulse and the team. The best place to follow the latest news, information and content about the ABB/ Solar Impulse is on our microsite,, where we will highlight the many ways in which ABB is part of a positive vision of sustainable development, driven by technology, and respect for the global environment.


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About the author

Conor Lennon

Formerly a broadcaster and communications consultant, I am currently based in Zurich as Global Special Projects Manager for ABB. I like to write about issues surrounding technology, sustainable development and society.
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