The World Future Energy Summit has recently finished in Abu Dhabi and for me one of the highlights was the Turanor, an impressive solar powered yacht designed and built by Planet Solar. It is the largest boat of its kind to ever sail and the first to ever circumnavigate the globe powered entirely by the sun. It steadily cruises at an average speed of five knots, but is capable of reaching more than double that on clear, calm, sunny days.
The project was conceived by Raphaël Domjan of Switzerland as a method of demonstrating the possibilities that current solar technology holds for clean transportation. The yacht carries a huge rack of Lithium-Ion batteries capable of storing up to three days’ worth of sailing power, easily enough to allow transit to continue throughout the night, or during overcast skies. Never once in thousands of miles has the boat had to turn on its diesel back up, in fact the diesel is only on board is to satisfy the insurance companies.
Whilst the Turanor has sailed around the world it has generated lots of media attention and public interest which has helped to boost recognition of the solar industry and the potential there within. At a price of $20 million the boat will not itself be available to everyone, but the investors are already experiencing ROI from the concepts that it has proven and the other ideas it has tested. One useful technology that could be put into the general market is the software created by Planet Solar which uses weather data to steer the boat into the sunniest areas, a very useful tool for future solar transport. The mammoth trip also demonstrated that neither the solar panels nor batteries suffered significant wear from salt or water, another important discovery for future solar powered boats.
Solar transport still faces many obstacles before it can be mass produced for sale to the general public at reasonable prices, it is more likely that the first solar powered yachts will be available for luxury cruisers. Still, it is obvious that the basic concepts of clean transportation are tenable, now we just need to be patient and wait.