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Is There a Future in Solar Boats?

| Thursday January 19th, 2012 | 3 Comments

Proof of Concept: PlanetSolar's Turanor Cruises the Mediterranean (Stock photo)

One of the highlights of this year’s World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi was a tour of Planet Solar’s incredible solar powered yacht – the Turanor.  The largest solar powered boat ever to set sail, the Turanor is on the final leg of a round-the-world tour, the first time anyone has managed to sail around the world powered entirely by solar energy.   The massive 8.5 ton boat comfortably carries a crew of a half dozen or so with plenty of room to host a dockside party for 100.   It cruises comfortably at 5 knots but is capable of double that speed on particularly good days as it cuts through the waves with its knife-like design.  Most impressive – the boat can can store as much as 3 days worth of sailing power in a huge rack of lithium ion batteries – thus allowing it to sail in the dark of night without a hitch.

Swiss founder Raphaël Domjan conceived of the project as a way of proving what’s possible with today’s technology in terms of clean transportation powered by the sun.  TreeHugger’s Brian Merchant captured the vision on video here.  The realities of price (the boat cost at least $20 million to develop) will likely prevent it from turning up at your local yacht club any time soon, but the many investors and sponsors in the project are already reaping ROI in terms of concepts proved, ideas tested, and lessons learned.  Additionally, the media buzz generated in each of dozens of ports along the journey have brought priceless interest in solar technology from sailors and landlubbers alike.

At the dock in Abu Dhabi

For example, the Plant Solar team developed their own software for using weather data to steer the boat into optimally sunny areas, avoiding clouds – a potentially useful tool for future solar mariners.  Additionally, neither the solar panels nor batteries suffered significant wear from salt or water.  Never once in thousands of miles has the boat had to turn on its diesel back up – in fact the only reason the diesel is on board is to satisfy insurance desires.

Left: Ready for the party... Right: Discussing Navigation with the Captain

The immediate applications for a boat of this type are likely luxury cruisers, and that is likely where the prototype will be sold while a new, improved version is developed to test still more technology.

Down to earth: Grove Boats' $200,000 Aquabus

On the more immediately practical side, Grove Boats, also a Swiss company, took us for a spin on on of their Aquabus models.  Still not cheap at $200,000, the boats are already in deployment in Europe as water taxis, launches and excursion vessels at popular destinations like Lake Geneva.

Boatbuilder Mark Wust explained that the Aquabus’s primary market will likely be eco-tourism locales and transportation in sensitive protected areas where loud motors and emissions could be disturbing.

Several are already operating as taxis in Venice, and given the company’s trip to the UAE, it may be only a matter of time until Dubai’s famous Abra water taxis have a new, if slightly less audacious option.

More on the Turanor from YoutTube:

* Ed Note: Masdar covered travel to Abu Dhabi for 3p


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  • http://lightontheearth.blogspot.com/2007/09/solar-powered-live-aboard-catamaran.html Jonathan Cole

    Of course there is a future in solar boats and they don’t have to be that expensive. I have been developing the concept since the early 1990’s. It can work now. http://lightontheearth.blogspot.com/2007/09/solar-powered-live-aboard-catamaran.html Got the business plan and the expertise.
    Just need visionary investors.

  • Caloy Husn

    Who would ever knew that rockets, planes, cellular phone and other technological device and advancement would be possible? All these were just a result of wild imagination of a few individuals who wants to innovate our ways of living. Now, with a great amount of determination and of course hardwork, I believe one of these days, this solar boat will dominate our oceans. Just remember what Thomas Alba Edison said: “I did not fail, I just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”, after 10000 failed  attemps before inventing the light bulb.
    solar adelaide

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Fernando-Jimenez/100000989574354 Fernando Jimenez

    The future already become a reality H-Mito is following step by step of this moment using solar systems for any purpose