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Solar Power on the Open Sea

Solar Power on the Open Sea

What does the future of renewable energy look like?  Typically, when people think about renewable energy, they visualize miles of solar panels in a desert, large offshore wind farms, or residential solar panel projects, but what about powering on-demand transportation, such as an airplane, car or boat?

Solar-powered cars are nothing new to the R&D world, what typically holds the technology back in cost and infrastructure – as well as demand.  Planes, an ideal candidate for solar power, carry such an expensive (and heavily regulated) burden that any progressive renewable energy retrofit in that sector, particularly on a massive scale, is quite a ways off.

In the case of ocean travel, however, renewable energy could look something like the Turanor PlanetSolar Solar Boat, which recently completed an 18-month journey across the world using only the power of the sun.  Embarking from Monaco in September 2010, the Swiss-designed boat cost $26 million and comes complete with 537 square meters of solar panels that powered its voyage from Monaco to destination spots such as Miami, Cancún, Brisbane, Singapore, Hong Kong and Abu Dhabi.

Raphael Domjan, the visionary of the boat, aims to get a message across to the public that it is indeed possible to travel the world without the use of fossil fuels.  Fossil fuels, a major externality to the entire planet given the mitigation and adaptation cost of climate change, are no longer a viable long-term energy option, although many fossil fuel companies would argue otherwise.

It doesn’t help that most of the world’s entire infrastructure is linked to fossil fuels, making it extremely laborious and costly to alter our existing way of life.  Projects like the Keystone XL pipeline and the Alberta Tar Sands only exemplify the lengths companies will go to for a world addicted to a finite fuel source.  It’s clearly time for sweeping, progressive change and a new energy market.

While the Turanor is obviously not for everyone’s budget, projects like this introduce a breath of fresh air to business as usual.  The mere fact that the ship ran solely on solar power and successfully made a trip across the world demonstrates not only the technical might of renewable energy, but the potential the industry has to compete with the standard fossil fuel-powered fleets that have existed historically.  The next step is to bring this conclusion to the rest of the market, reduce the price and make clean, renewable and sustainable energy the energy of today and of the future.


Cross-posted from the San Francisco Energy Cooperative.

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Photo Credit: Pierre Bona

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10:42PM PDT on May 13, 2012

WHERE DO I SIGN UP TO HELP BUILD THESE BOATS -- I MEAN TRAINING ON THE JOB, SERIOUSLY! You did the dream, and you have the next step! YOU ARE AWESOME! Thank You for You, and doing what you did.

"The next step is to bring this conclusion to the rest of the market, reduce the price and make clean, renewable and sustainable energy the energy of today and of the future."

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6:45AM PDT on May 10, 2012

Thank you for the news. It's interesting.

12:39PM PDT on May 9, 2012

The problem with solar power is, and is likely to remain, power density. The article and pictures of the Turanor do not show how much carrying capacity it has, but if it is similar to solar cars I would expect only a fairly small crew and minimal cargo capacity. While this is all very well for a demonstration model, the area of solar panel required to propel even this small payload implies prohibitive amounts for any commercially useful transport. Solar panels may well be useful in supplying supplementary power, but barring major technological breakthrough I cannot see them as the main power source of a practical self-contained vehicle.

For large-scale maritime transport, far more effective is likely to be an age-old and indirect use of solar power: sailing.

6:05AM PDT on May 9, 2012

Thanks for the article.

5:34PM PDT on May 8, 2012

Never even thought of solar power in that capacity. Yes, not for everyone but it's a great feat nonetheless.

11:07AM PDT on May 8, 2012

The world also has a sea of sand (1/3rd of all land is desert). Using counter-desertification techniques, deserts can be made to produce massive amounts of food, feed, fiber, niche, and green energy crops (for biofuels). To see an early counter-desertification project, please do a Google search for Thar Desert in NW India. Our charity, NPI, is helping to start an advanced counter-desertification project in Kenya. "Big Oil" is already fearful of the amount of biofuels we can soon produce on desert lands.

9:19AM PDT on May 8, 2012

Solar panels are black so they will adsorb the suns energy and keep it from being reflected back into space. The thousands of acres it would take of black solar panels to power a small town would contribute to global warming much in the same way a natural gas generator would. After considering the volume of degradable petroleum based plastics and batteries required to make them usable, the economic return just isn’t there yet.

6:34AM PDT on May 8, 2012


2:35AM PDT on May 8, 2012

Great news,if I only had the money I would buy one today.

5:07PM PDT on May 7, 2012

so interesting.Let's hope the best and brightest sailors will be inspired. E.Cashman

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