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It would create jobs for would-be immigrants and a climate of civility between nations.

12/19/2016 11:39 am ET | Updated Dec 19, 2016

MEXICO CITY ― President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly called for Mexico to build a wall between our countries. There is indeed a way that Mexico could create a barrier between the U.S. and Mexico, one constructed exclusively on the Mexican side, with substantial benefits for both countries and the planet: a solar border.

Sunlight in the northern deserts of Mexico is more intense than in the U.S. Southwest because of the lower latitude and more favorable cloud patterns. And construction and maintenance costs for solar plants in Mexico are substantially lower. Thus, building a long series of such plants all along the Mexican side of the border could power cities on both sides faster and more cheaply than similar arrays built north of the border.

Solar energy is already being generated at lower prices than those of coal. With solar plants along vast stretches of the almost 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border on the Mexican side, a new high-voltage direct-current (HVDC) grid could be set up to transmit energy efficiently from that long, snaking array to population centers along the border. HVDC power lines lose exponentially less energy over long distances than traditional power lines. Cities that could immediately benefit include San Diego, Tijuana, Mexicali, Tucson, Phoenix, El Paso, Ciudad Juarez, San Antonio and Monterrey.

If one were to construct the equivalent of a strip of arrays one-third the width of a football field south of the entire U.S.-Mexico border, wider in some areas and narrower in others, with a wide berth allowed for populated areas and stretches of rugged terrain, sufficient energy might be produced to also supply Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Dallas and Houston. For the U.S. cities, it would be a way to obtain cheaper and cleaner energy than they can from other sources.

The solar border would have a civilizing effect in a dangerous area.

A solar border would alleviate a range of binational problems. For one, it would have a civilizing effect in a dangerous area. Since solar plants use security measures to keep intruders out, the solar border would serve as a de facto virtual fence, reducing porousness of the border while producing major economic, environmental and security benefits on both sides. It would make trafficking drugs, arms and people all the more difficult for criminal cartels. In Mexico, the solar border would create a New Deal-like source of high-tech construction and technology jobs all along the border, which could absorb a significant number of would-be migrant workers on their way to cross into the U.S. illegally, at great physical risk.

Most importantly, it would make a significant contribution to the global battle against carbon emissions, since the electricity generated would be carbon neutral, and the purchase of so much solar technology would bring its price down further. The plants would be built using environmentally sensitive techniques for avoiding habitat loss for desert species.

Additionally, the grid could extend to the coasts, where ecologically sensitive desalination plants could be built for the production of fresh water, which could be pumped inland to cities and agricultural areas along the border that suffer from water shortages ― a phenomenon bound to worsen as the effects of global warming increase desertification. This would reduce tension and food security concerns that have vexed bilateral relations for decades because of the disputed water supply of the Rio Grande and other shared water sources.

Because Mexican solar power is cheaper than north of the border, international investors would have strong incentives.

Once the solar plants are installed and prove successful, additional areas in Mexico could be added to the grid, building on the accumulated know-how generated in the new workforce by the initial construction experience. Mexico has immense potential as a solar-producing country, especially in its high central plateau deserts, which provide the most favorable combination of dry, unclouded, low-latitude and relatively cool climate for solar generation. Potentially, all of Mexico could be solar-powered one day.

How to pay for it? Although it would be a major investment, the price of industrial solar generation continues to drop quickly, and because Mexican solar power is cheaper to build and maintain than comparable facilities north of the border, international investors would have strong incentives. Fortuitously, Mexico’s recent constitutional reforms encourage foreign and domestic investment in the electric power sector. Construction of the solar border would go a long way toward helping Mexico achieve its mandated climate change goals, which include 35 percent renewable electricity generation by 2024. Electricity exports from Mexico to the U.S. have existed for over a century and have burgeoned in recent years, which should make international long-term loan guarantees for solar plants relatively easy to obtain.

If the initiative were framed as a big charismatic project that has the full backing of the Mexican government, garnering the admiration of the rest of the world, it would position Mexico as an exemplary world leader in combating climate change. Mexico and the U.S. would be connected by a truly beautiful wall ― a symbol of unity, visible even from space.

Article By: Homero Aridjis and James Ramey

In a video filmed exclusively for WIRED, Bertrand Piccard offers a unique insight into the round-the-world mission

In the coming weeks, Solar Impulse 2 is set to complete its round-the-world journey. The aircraft, being flown in shifts by Swiss entrepreneur Andre Borschberg and psychiatrist Bertrand Piccard, is an attempt to promote clean transport.

In an exclusive video filmed for WIRED, pilot Bertrand Piccard talks of the team’s excitement at the upcoming completion of the round-the-world trip and reveals a unique and personal insight into what it’s really like to fly in the coffin-sized cockpit for days at a time. The footage was captured on Piccard’s own camera as he made the recent 70-hour journey across the Atlantic.

Credit WIRED/YouTube/Solar Impulse

“We’re getting closer and closer. Hopefully in July we can celebrate with our team, our partners, our supporters, everyone who believes in clean technologies,” explained Piccard. “It’s not just a first for aviation, it’s a first for clean technologies. Flying around the world with no fuel…that’s the future we want to show.”

The tiny cockpit – which measures just 40.9 square feet – has room for instruments, a small amount of food and a reclining chair. Pilots can have a daily food allowance of 2.4kg and 2.5 litres of water.

During the footage, Piccard takes an incredible selfie of him and his giant plane. He shows off the plane’s seemingly complex controls, including the switches and generators that convert the solar energy. He reclines in his seat to turn it into a bed, and films inside his modest food supplies. The pilots are only able to sleep for 20 minutes at a time, and alarms make sure they don’t doze for longer.

Credit WIRED/YouTube/Solar Impulse

Behind Piccard’s seat on the Solar Impulse 2 you can see photos of his wife, Michelle, and his three daughters, and beneath the seat hides a toilet which Piccard quips is a must during long journeys.

The video is a fascinating look at the humble cockpit on board a record-breaking and innovative plane.

The plane’s specifications

Solar Impulse 2 (Si2) can reach maximum speeds of up to 87mph, though its average speed is around 50mph. This may not sound fast but because it is powered by solar power rather than fuel, it can fly for days – or, theoretically, forever.

The plane weighs slightly more than a car but has the wingspan of a Boeing 747 (236ft or 71.9 metres) and is powered by more than 17,000 photovoltaic cells which cover the wings and fuselage. It weighs 2,300kg.

Credit WIRED/YouTube/Solar Impulse

What’s next for Si2?

The team said its 35,000km trip is “90 per cent” complete. It has already completed 15 legs of the trip and has two, possibly three, more to go. It left Abu Dhabi in March 2015 for its year-and-a-half long round-the-world trip.

The journey has previously included a five-night and five-day journey from Japan to Hawaii, which at the time broke a record for the longest uninterrupted journey in aviation history.

Following its Atlantic crossing, it will now fly through Europe and on to the Middle East back to Abu Dhabi.

“What lies ahead for the remaining 10 per cent? Still a mystery,” the team wrote on its blog. “We’ll be flying to Egypt or Greece, and in another three flights or so we’ll be landing in the summer heat of Abu Dhabi.”

“Success will be measured by the number of kilometres we’ve accomplished, but most of all by the number of people we will have inspired to follow their dreams and make the world a better place,” the blog concluded.


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On June 23, 2016, after making a pitstop in New York City, Solar Impulse 2, a solar-powered plane aiming to raise awareness of the potential of solar energy in transportation, landed in Seville, Spain, today after a 71-hour flight across the Atlantic ocean. (An ocean trip from New York to Southampton, UK, on the QE2 when it was in service took six days or 144 hours.)

The final approach.(Flickr/Solar Impulse 2)

The solar plane has an absolutely massive wingspan—roughly the same as a 747 jumbo jet’s—to accommodate all the solar cells that power its myriad engines, but its cabin is about the size of a station wagon. As a result, the plane is rather susceptible to turbulence, and so the team of two Swiss pilots had to wait for ideal weather conditions to cross the ocean. Unlike a 747, which can hold up to about 500 passengers, Solar Impulse 2 only has room for the two pilots.

Taking off under the moonlight in New York.(Flickr/Solar Impulse)

The worldwide flight expedition, which started in Abu Dhabi in 2015 but was delayed in Hawaii for a few months after some fuel cells broke, is led by Andre Borschberg, a Swiss businessman and pilot, and Bertrand Piccard, the pilot who completed the first non-stop balloon flight around the world in 1999. The team, aiming to show what’s possible with solar power, had planned to land in Paris, to mimic Charles Lindbergh’s first flight across the Atlantic in 1927, but because of weather patterns, it had to settle for the southern Spanish town.

Solar Impulse 2 in its hangar at JFK before heading out for Europe.(Flickr/Solar Impulse)

The trip from JFK airport in New York across the Atlantic covered over 4,200 miles as the plane traveled at 28,000 feet above sea level, according to Motherboard. The arduous trip made the average transatlantic flight on even the most budget airline sound appealing: The plane’s cabin is not pressurized, meaning the pilots had to wear oxygen masks, and were only able to rest for about 20 minutes at a time, a representative for the team told Motherboard. Not exactly enjoyable, but it does point at a potential future where aviation is not governed by fossil fuels, even if it’s a distant one.

The zero-emission plane will be making its next stop somewhere in Greece or Egypt—depending on the weather—before it returns to Abu Dhabi.
Image copyrightGetty Images
Image captionDelft 

University students celebrated their win with their car, Nuna8A team from Delft University in the Netherlands has won a solar car race in the Australian outback.

A team from Delft University in the Netherlands has won a solar car race in the Australian outback.

The university’s Nuon Solar Team was the first to arrive at the finish line in Adelaide. The 3,000km (1,800 mile) race took four days to complete.

The race, which happens once every two years, started on Sunday in Darwin.

Nearly 50 teams from universities and schools around the world took part. Delft University had also won the last challenge in 2013.

The World Solar Challenge is aimed at promoting research on solar-powered cars which could become a consumer product one day.

Read more: The cars chasing the Sun

The winning team celebrated by jumping into the fountain in Adelaide’s city centre.

The Nuon solar team from the Netherlands celebrate after crossing the line with their Nuna8 solar car to win the World Solar Challenge, in Adelaide, Australia, 22 October 2015.Image copyrightEPA
Nuna8 of Nuon Solar Team Netherlands arrive into Coober Pedy as they race on day four in the Cruiser Class of the 2015 World Solar Challenge on October 21, 2015 in Coober Pedy, Australia. Teams from across the globe are competing in the 2015 World Solar Challenge - a 3000 km solar-powered vehicle race between Darwin and Adelaide.Image copyrightGetty Images

Image captionThe futuristic-looking winning car features a large solar panel on top

In second place was a team from the University of Twente, also from the Netherlands; while Japan’s Tokai University came in third.

A handout photo taken and received on 21 October 2015, shows Red One of Solar Team Twente Netherlands leaving Coober Pedy as they race on day four in the Cruiser Class of the 2015 World Solar ChallengeImage copyrightAFP

Image captionThe cars, including Twente’s car Red One, passed through the town of Coober Pedy in the outback
The Tokai University car from Japan competes during the fourth day of the 2015 World Solar Challenge in Coober Pedy, Australia, on Wednesday, 21 October 2015Image copyrightAP

Image captionThe 1,800 mile (3,000km) race took four days to complete

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