Solar powered boat now a concept and commercial reality

Posted on 28 Sep 2016 by Aiden Burgess, Tim Brown

A boat powered solely by renewable energies and hydrogen is preparing for its maiden journey in February when it will set off for its historic trip around the world.

The solar powered boat, named the Energy Observer, aims to circumnavigate the globe using only clean power; powered by the sun and a mix of renewable energy, wind, solar and water.

Dubbed ‘The Solar Impulse Of The Seas’, the Energy Observer will look to emulate the feats of the Solar Impulse, which became the first solar-powered aeroplane to complete an around-the-world flight in July this year. However, while the Energy Observer will be the first combined solar, wind and hydrogen powered boat to attempt the feat, Planet Solar completed a circumnavigation of the globe in a pure solar powered boat in 2012.

The Energy Observer solar powered boat will sail for six years around the world as a floating exhibition and clean energy laboratory - image courtesy of The Energy Observer.
The Energy Observer solar powered boat will sail for six years around the world as a floating exhibition and clean energy laboratory – image courtesy of The Energy Observer.

The Energy Observer will sail for an estimated six years as it circumnavigates the globe in its function as a floating exhibition and clean energy laboratory, and is scheduled to stop in 50 countries and 101 ports of call.

The €4.2m ($4.72 million) vessel is 30.5m in length and 12.8m in width, with the multi-hulled catamaran a former racing vessel that won the 1994 Jules Verne Trophy for the fastest circumnavigation of the world. The vessel with the storied past was extended by 6m to 30.5m for the circumnavigation project.

The Energy Observer is currently preparing for its around the world journey at Saint Malo on France’s west coast as it awaits the installation of solar panels, vertical axis wind turbines, electrolysis equipment which breaks down water to produce its component elements; hydrogen and oxygen, and two reversible electric motors.

The plan is for the boat’s batteries to feed the electric motors, which will be powered in good and bad weather by solar and wind energy.

As well as aiming to become the first boat to be powered solely by renewable energies to circumnavigate the globe, the Energy Observer will also be the first ship in the world to produce hydrogen on board through desalination of sea water.

The Energy Observer project was designed in partnership with a team of naval architects and  the research institute CEA-Liten in the French city of Grenoble.

CEA-Liten director Florence Lambert said the Energy Observer and its solar-powered capabilities was a precursor to the global energy systems which would be prevalent in the near future.

“Energy Observer is emblematic of what will be the energy networks of tomorrow, with solutions that could even be used in the next five years,” he said. “For example the houses of tomorrow could incorporate a system of hydrogen storage, which is produced in the summer months and then used in the winter.”

Energy Observer will be fixed with senses to act as a virtual moving laboratory for CEA-Liten.

Energy Observer’s around-the-world trip is expected to cost €4m a year with the project’s team confident of getting the essential funding for the voyage. Energy Observer’s global circumnavigation is expected to take 6 years starting with a careful crossing of the Meditarranean Sea before venturing out into the Atlantic and then Pacific Oceans.

Solar powered boats not just concepts

The Solarwave 62' solar powered boat by Nedship - image courtesy of Nedship
The Solarwave 62′ solar powered boat by Nedship – image courtesy of Nedship

In 2015, reports emerged about a Turkish company, called Nedship, that was working on a commercially available solar powered boat.

Calling themselves, the Tesla of the Seas, the company said it’s boat, the Solarwave 62′, would “bring a lifestyle to their owners never have seen before”.

The company says its yacht has what is effectively an unlimited range and can match the cruising speed of sailing catamarans.

The company has completed its first Solarwave 62′ yacht, which was built in Antalya Free Zone (ASBAŞ), Turkey’s leading site for luxury yacht and mega yacht construction, and was handed over to its Australian owner last week.

The upper surface of the 19-meter-long yacht was covered with solar panels, which allow the vessel to cruise up to 20 sea miles when batteries are full. A power generator was also installed as a back-up power source.

Following two months of tests in open sea, the yacht was transferred to Greece to be handed over to its Australian owner.

The video below shows a Solarwave 62′ boat in production.