If the shipping industry were a country, it would place sixth on the most carbon emission generating countries in the world. The good news is that solar in maritime transport is improving.

How Solar Is Improving The Boat Industry

Len Calderone for | AltEnergyMag

Are you a boat lover? Maybe you just like to relax, listening to the water lapping against the side of your boat, or maybe you look forward to casting that lure.  Unless you are a speed boat fanatic, you might want to consider purchasing a solar-powered boat. Not only are solar-powered boats ecologically friendly, they run quiet.

The Aptera design team has unveiled a solar-powered boat, called the Loon, which was designed for the Tamarack Lake Electric Boat Company. It has pontoon styling, and is relatively lightweight for its size, with 1000W solar panel roofing, which is collapsible for compact storage of the boat when it’s not in the water. The boat is 22 feet long, and is made of recycled materials, bamboo and natural fibers, with an estimated top speed of 7 knots.   

Solar boats are electrical boats, with silent and clean engines, whose batteries store free energy from the sun. Electrically driven boats are dependent on batteries, but on the seas and within the inland waterways, there are not many connections to public recharging systems. Batteries have to be discharged and replenished, and the best solution is solar power. Solar panels on a boat can charge the batteries on the spot - cleanly and efficiently with free energy from the sun.

Solar plants, which are roof mounted, are reliable and durable. History shows that solar-powered boats are nothing new, but solar drive systems are an interesting development. Solar generators allow independence from the electric socket. The shaking, rattling and the stench of fuel, associated with gas engines, are eliminated, so that the boaters can breathe deeply, enjoy conversation and experience the pleasure of the ride. These drive systems not only protect the environment, but they enhance the quality of the boating experience by allowing the boat to move closer to the animal world without disturbing the wildlife.

Flexible solar panel for boat

The  MS Turanor Planet Solar is the world's largest solar-powered boat. The 115 foot catamaran cruised past the statue of Liberty during its world cruise.

The catamaran has an expandable deck covered with over 5000 square feet of solar panels, as the 60-ton vessel is completely powered by the sun. 800 solar panels charge enormous lithium-ion batteries stored in the catamaran's twin hulls, which power two electric motors at the back.

Although the captain reviews meteorological forecasts a week in advance to set a course, which has the most sun, the boat can cruise for 72 hours without any sun.   During its cruise, the boat's team of scientists examines water and air samples, as part of their research into climate change, using high-tech vacuum cleaners to measure aerosols in the air, and water conditions 600 feet below. The MS Turanor Planet Solar glides silently across the water, carrying sixty passengers.

If you prefer sailing, you can find solar powered sailboats. Obviously, I am talking about using solar power when the wind is insufficient to get you to your destination. Regular sailboats feature a loud, malodorous, expensive-to-fuel auxiliary diesel engine that always seems to break down at the worst possible time.

The legend e36 hybrid is quiet, emission-free, dependable and cheap, with a cruising range of six to eight hours at five knots between charges when under battery power only. When integrated with the wind, the range becomes limitless.

Photo courtesy of Legend

Solar powered sailboats are equipped with a solar power system that powers the boat’s refrigerator, freezer, laptops, and entertainment systems.  

There are two ways to use solar energy on a sail boat. A sailboat can use solar panels on the boat, or solar panels as part of the sail. If the panels are on the boat, the slightest bit of shade significantly affects the power output; so, the crew must try to keep the sails from shading the panels as much as possible.

If a sailboat is a little too labor intensive for you, there are some great solar powered yachts available, such as Arcadia’s solar-powered super charter yachts from 85 – 180 feet.  The company claims that the unique shape of the hull will lower the amount of propulsion needed, which will be handled by low power hybrid engines running on either low emission diesel or solar panels.

If you think that an 85 foot yacht has a steep price tag, you are so correct, but even a smaller version, such as a 40 foot solar yacht can cost $400,000, such as the Island Pilot.

This amazing yacht will reach around thirteen knots with the help of solar panels and a little bit of assistance from a diesel engine. As the ultimate in “green cruising,” the Legend Pilot can travel for months at a time using only renewable energy. All of the power needs are met by a 6 kW solar array, modern batteries and a diesel hybrid propulsion system from Steyr Motors. The yacht can cruise at 5 knots and has a spacious great room and two staterooms.

Now, if you are a DIYer, you can build your own solar boat for around $3,000. Canadian eco-enthusiast Dan Baker built the Firefly, which was custom built to cruise lakes, and provide a leisure experience without air or noise pollution.

Baker fitted the roof of the boat with a home-built solar panel featuring 6 x 6 photovoltaic cells, which he purchased on eBay. The energy is stored in a lead-acid battery, which powers two brushless DC electric motors. Each motor is mounted on opposite rear corners of the boat to provide thrust and steering. The roof-mounted solar panel is capable of generating 140W of clean energy. The boat is able to manage a top speed of 4 mph, which is about as fast as a leisurely canoe ride.

To see the construction, go to here.

Maritime shipping is the lifeblood of international trade, thanks to the modern container ship. These floating skyscrapers can carry as many as 15,000 20-foot containers Container ships can unload and load their cargo far quicker than ships in the past, and they can carry everything you can buy.

If the shipping industry were a country, it would place sixth on the most carbon emission generating countries in the world. The good news is that solar in maritime transport is improving. Toyota exports a lot of their cars; and to get them where they need to go, the cars need to be shipped. In 2009, Toyota outfitted the Auriga Leader with 328 solar panels which was enough to generate 40 kW of power. While this is only a small amount compared to the ship’s overall needs, it has proven to be a success. In fact, Toyota has seen the potential, and has already developed a solar panel, which is able to triple the efficiency of the panels.

Toyota’s Auriga Leader

Nissan also announced that it installed 281 solar panels on its ship, the Nichioh Maru. It installed this system in February 2012, and Nissan claims the solar panels provides most of the ships electrical needs. The ship still uses diesel engines to power the ship, but the installation of this hybrid system, combined with low power LED lighting and efficient wiring reduced diesel consumption by 1,400 tons a year and reduced its carbon emissions by 4,200 tons.

To enjoy the sea while respecting Nature, is a real commitment with ethical values being essential. Sailing is a privilege that should be experienced without rushing or causing ecological damage.



Len Calderone - Contributing Editor



Len has contributed articles to several publications. He also writes opinion editorials for a local newspaper. He is now retired.


Len Calderone


The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag

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