Bertrand Piccard, Solar Aircraft Pioneer inspires the pioneers and innovators in us all


BERTRAND PICCARD:  This is actually, the challenge that we had with Andre Borschberg my friend, colleague, and partner when we launched this project together: to bring people who had no idea it was impossible and achieve something that could be a historic first, spreading a message about what we need for the future.  Actually, when we speak about innovation, I think we have to take this example to understand that very often innovation does not come from inside the system.  It cannot come from specialists who know exactly how to do something.  One-hundred-and-fifty years ago, it was not the people selling candles who invented the lightbulb.  Ten years ago, it was not a car manufacturer, who made the best electrical car.  No, it’s a guy who made a fortune on the Internet who had no idea how to make a car, who made the Tesla.

We therefore see that innovation usually, is not a new idea that we have.  Innovation is an old belief that we get rid of.  We are full of old beliefs.  We are full of certitudes, of habits that keep us prisoner of old ways of doing.  This is exactly what we see today with all these old technologies: polluting, with too many losses and not efficient enough that we still have everywhere.  People find it normal and the people who pollute the planet are not nasty people.  They are just people who are prisoners of old ways of doing so when Ulrich Spieshofer is speaking about innovation inside a company that he has taken in his hands, to turn it into a power and automation company, it has real meaning.  It means that everything we attempt to say with Solar Impulse gets a credibility because a company like APB is running it into bringing this product on the market, to the people to change the world.

Basically, we tried to change the mindset of the people.  Ulrich and his team tried to change the world.  Why do we try to change the mindsets?  Because today, the clean technologies that already exists are already today, enough to divide the energy consumption of the world by two, and to produce half of the rest with renewable sources.  If you calculate what you can save by insulating buildings, bringing electrical mobility, insulating houses, changing industrial processes, putting some paint under the hulls of the ships to cause less resistance, putting silica in the tyres, and new alloys of metal for the gearbox, then the list of clean technology – and this, I really would like to emphasise – is not just producing clean energy.  No.  It is saving the dirty energy.  This is clean technology and the converters and all the new systems to transport energy is so logical, when you hear about it.

Nevertheless, you have people who don’t change.  We therefore believe that with an airplane that can fly day and night with no fuel, we have leverage.  What is the leverage?  It’s not just a dream because a dream is not enough.  We have thousands of journalists, politicians, and parliamentarians who are interested in this adventure because it shows renewable energy enter a sexy phase.  For so long, the protection of the environment was boring and expensive.  The green parties were saying ‘less mobility, less comfort, less growth, and less consumption’.   Nobody wants less.  Everybody wants more and better, so it did not work.  After 50 years, there are still people who are fighting against the protection of the environment, just to keep production and pay the salaries for their employees, and it’s normal.

Now, we have to show that the protection of the environment can be profitable and exciting.  The best reward we had with Solar Impulse until now was the invitations of the European Parliament and the European Commission to bring Solar Impulse to Brussels and to show it to the sceptical politicians in order to try to stimulate a more ambitious energy policy.  The invitation of the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, to fly from Switzerland to Morocco and promote his solar-powered planes in Ouarzazate.  The crossing of the United States with the Secretary of Energy coming himself to speak at our press conference and Ban Ki Moon inviting us to make two events at the United Nations – this is what we aim for.  Try to reach as many people as possible who can change the world by their decisions.  I still believe that most politicians would like to do what’s best, but they don’t have enough support.

We need to encourage them by through media support, more popular support, to take the decisions that will do…what?  Well, the decisions that will replace the old technologies with new technologies.  Producing wealth, creating jobs, making profits, stimulating growth, and at the same time, protecting the environment.  With this airplane, it’s a little strange sometimes when I speak about it this way because it seems to be a political tool.  It’s also, a philosophical experience.  It’s also, a dream.  It’s also, fascinating to fly it and we have people who support this project just because they want to remember that dreaming is still possible in this world.  You fly with no fuel.  You never need to stop for refuelling.  We stop to change the pilot because there’s only one seat.  There is no noise.  There is no pollution.  We will fly across the Pacific five days and five nights with only a pilot, so it’s a spiritual experience.

If we can fly all the way around the world, we hope to bring enough people together on a new platform that we’re creating, in order to come to Cup 21, as Willy has said, where several hundred million people will have expressed themselves for what they would like their governments to do.  In that sense, a historic first should be followed by a lot of practical actions and the master words for are I believe; ‘pioneering spirit’.  ‘Pioneering spirit’ is when we try to do things outside of our comfort zone, when we understand that when we are facing a crisis, facing risk, or facing difficulties we can stimulate our creativity.  We can stimulate our imagination.  We can stimulate our performance.  This is what the world should do today.  Today, the world is in a crisis for energy, economy, wars, and the environment and this is exactly where the pioneers should stand up and say ‘this is a fabulous opportunity to be better, to use the human skills, the human competencies – the human performance – in order to improve the world’.

The only call I can make after a speech like this is not ‘everyone fly with a solar-powered airplane’ but ‘be pioneers’.  Be innovators and take everything from the values of human beings in order to improve the technology and the spirit that we need for the future.