First solar-powered boat to cross the Atlantic embarks on historical journey

The Solar Voyager — a small, autonomous solar-powered boat — is braving the winds and waves of the Atlantic Ocean to show the power of green energy. The craft left Boston harbor on June 1st and is expected to land in Portugal in October.

Image via inhabitat

Back in 2013, engineers Christopher Sam Soon and Isaac Penny started building a solar-powered boat powerful enough to brave the world’s oceans on its own from scratch. They’re not the first to try this — Wave Glider had been launched just a year before, relying on waves to power it forward on its journey. But Wave glider was funded by California based Liquid Robotics, while Soon and Penny had no such help. The duo designed and built the craft by themselves, working on the project in their spare time after work. Anyone can build a ship like they did, Penny said.

“Only Liquid Robotics can build a Wave Glider, but anyone can do what we did. We don’t even have a garage!” laughed Penny.

Solar Voyager’s photovoltaic panels can churn out 7 kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy every day in summer and 3 kWh in winter. The ship was built from aluminum, which the engineers chose over the usual “glass reinforced plastic” used in other autonomous crafts for its better resilience. On the flip-side, the metal also makes the craft heavier and thus more energy consuming, but the team hopes it will help it survive the harsh open ocean. Just to make sure though, the engineers monitor their little boat through the Iridium satellite network, and can receive updated data every 15 minutes.

“Durability is the obvious problem, but there isn’t an obvious solution,” Penny told techcrunch. “Designing something that runs for a day is one thing — designing something that will run for months in such harsh conditions with no one there to fix it is different.”

Image via inhabitat

So why did they do it? To show the world that solar energy isn’t just an alternative — often times it’s the best solution.

“We always think about solar as this alternative energy thing, but you just couldn’t do this with fossil fuels – you couldn’t build something that will run forever,” Penny said.

“Whether it’s long endurance drones, or data gathering for maritime security, or monitoring wildlife preserves – solar isn’t just an alternative form of energy, it’s the best solution. It brings something to the table that nothing else has.”

The engineers are now looking for a boat owner in Portugal who can help them collect the Solar Voyager once it makes its journey. If you want to cheer the little ship onward, you can check on the Solar Voyager and see its current position here.

2 thoughts on “First solar-powered boat to cross the Atlantic embarks on historical journey

  1. Brian

    Very cool. I've calculated the solar possible using the area of a container ship, it's about 5MWp for 20% cells. They have 100,000 BHP engines, or about 77 MW engines. The solar would certainly save fuel for running refrigeration, and the rest of the electrical systems. Since solar has a .25 capacity factor or less, solar could supply only about 3% on fuel.

    Electricity may be more valuable. Container ship typically have a 1-4MW birth electrical demand. I would guess mostly for refrigeration. 4MW electrical takes about 8 MWth for the big ship diesels. If the refrigeration could be done mostly while the sun shines, Solar would save about 4MWth, or about 6% in fuel use.

    Shipping is a huge polluter.
    Ports are requiring ships to use port power because of the pollution.
    The local infrastructure to supply electrical power can cost millions. The solar panels would cost less. Of course the ships should have gassifier technology so they would not be so polluting.

    This solar ship is a great project.

    Hydrofoils are supposed to be twice as efficient.

  2. Pingback: First solar-powered boat to cross the Atlantic embarks on historical journey – Radar 360 Blog

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