Can We Increase Size of Solar-Powered Drones?

Questions of the size and endurance of the solar-powered drone are both being researched. One thing that may need to be considered is whether the increased size of the drone may be related to the lengthened time it could fly.

Solar powered drone
Image Credit: Solar Tribune

With drones providing incredible services from the cameras they fly above the earth, there is much to consider in the use of power or renewable in their power sources. Especially if they are going to be used for scientific research that works to evaluate the troubles that solar power works to help, such as global warming and other environmental conditions, renewable energy like solar power is extremely helpful in their usage.

Drones commonly run on batteries, leaving them with a determined time of power. This is often limited to mere hours, leaving these incredible devices without the ability to provide much benefit to the research and other work they are intended to offer. Solar power would therefor create a much longer and more efficient stream of energy for these drones, whether they are intended for mapping, internet power, scientific research or much more. Longevity would no longer be a problem, as drones would potentially be able to run for years.

Introducing Solar Power to Drones

The idea of solar panels added to drones is incredible. Without batteries the drone could fly so long as the sun keeps shining. But there are some issues and questions involved in this procedure. The traditional large and heavy solar panels are unlikely to provide efficient power and energy for drones and their applications. However, new solar cells that are small, thin and flexible have the ability to be added in large numbers to drones without weighing them down or using energy in excessive amounts too quickly.

Some of the students who have tested this method have recorded and published their efforts online and the drone itself appears to be very thin. With sheet-like thickness there is the question of whether the drone would be able to hold the traditional solar panels, along with the question of the equation needed to calculate the power needed for extended longevity.

Solar Power for the Drone?

Power is the time rate of energy usage, including the change in energy divided by the change in time, and it is measured in units of watts. All power from the solar panels should be used to fly the drone, eliminating the need for batteries that would store additional energy. Since the batteries would increase mass this would be helpful as well.

The real question arises, “How much power is gained from a solar panel?” We have the real issue related to deciding the ability of solar-powered drones. Output of solar power from these panels depends on a number of values, some of which have been calculated by scientists researching this subject:

Power from the Sun includes the power per area of the energy from the Sun. At the surface of Earth this is about 1000 watts per square meter. This value can’t change unless you change the Sun (not recommended). (E represents energy)

Size of the solar panel, with bigger panels using more power. Calculations start with an area of about 0.04 square meters. (A is for area)

The efficiency of the solar panel. With 1000 W/m2 hitting the solar panel doesn’t mean all of that goes into electricity, likely efficiency of 28 percent. (Efficiency represented by e)

Orientation angle is best when the panel is perpendicular to the sun. Of course, the Sun is probably not directly overhead. (θ is the orientation angle)

The power output equation has been developed as follows:


Hovering Power to Add to the Energy of the Drone?

Hovering power of the drone must be calculated in order to determine the size of the machine and the panels as well. It may not be the same as the heavier quadcopter which is usually used for calculation of hovering power, but many factors including the mass and area of the drone are needed to determine the force and change of speed needed to keep it in motion. While the quadcopter uses air to fly, the same thrust is not needed to calculate the hovering power needed of the drone. Kinetic energy increases power and needs to increase as time goes to continue the drone’s movement.

Larger Drone with Additional Solar Cells Increase Flying Time?

After considering these references there is much about the size of the drone, including mass and weight, that can apply to the power of the solar cells that are able to keep it powered up longer. With a drone of increased area but of a much thinner height, it is much lighter, can hold many more of the updated solar cells that are of lighter weight and potentially greater power. With the thin plastic solar cells that have been generated for lower cost and continual energy production, there is much that can be done for the increased length of time these drones could fly.

It has been reported that the rotors of the drone are smaller than traditional quadcopters that we have flying here in the air. Reports have found that required kinetic energy is proportional to velocity, indicating that smaller rotors along with faster air require a lot more power. This is why the man-powered helicopter is so big, in order to maintain power at human levels.

From here come the many questions of size, how many panels or cells will be needed to power the drone, the size of each cell, and then the length of time that this power will last. It will need to be calculated as to the length of time that the power of the drone will last, preventing energy loss and device destruction.



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