With renewable energy sources like wind and solar constantly on hand, it is no wonder that everyone wants to harness this energy with constantly evolving technology. Cars and buildings are going solar, why not boats and massive cruise ships?
Solar Sailor, an Australian company that owns the patented ‘solarsail’ technology, has developed devices comparable to ‘wings’ that attach to ocean-going vessels to harness the ever-popular wind and solar energy. Both sources of energy are especially abundant when floating on the ocean.
This hybrid marine power (HMP) technology comes in the from of a ‘solar wing’, which typically rests on top of the ship like a solid metal sail (to take advantage of wind) and is covered with shimmering solar panels that rotate according to the sun’s position in the sky.
Boats have less design restrictions than cars, which is why giant solar panels can’t be strapped to the roof of vehicles that end up swerving around on a small road. Boats have no problem with these huge appendages and the extra weight of the attached chargeable batteries are not a problem either. In fact, they act as a ballast and improve the whole boating experience.
The main safety issue with boats are storms. Heavy winds and giant waves are incredibly dangerous, and in these situations, the solar wings fold down against the boat and out of harm’s way. According to Solar Sailor, the system is “engineered to operate in 40 knots of wind, with 300% margin of safety.”
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|Photovoltaic sails harvest energy from the wind and the sun.
(Photo: Solar Sail Holdings, Ltd.)
Captains of a boats equipped with solar sails have the option of controlling the airfoil wings automatically with a computer or manually. SolarSailor explains that “in automatic mode the computer generally gets 3-6 knots of boat speed in a 20-knot wind depending on the wind direction on tourist cruises. Experienced sailors adjusting the wings manually have achieved steady 8-10 knots of boat speed – so we know there is further potential there.”
A boat equipped with HMP technology is typically 20-30% more expensive than vessels without the winged design. But, as with most green technologies, the design eventually pays for itself. In this case, payback occurs in as little as 3 to 5 years.
Solar Sailor technology is incredibly efficient and CEO of the company, Dr Robert Dane is certain that the solar wings will soon be a given when designing any ship: “We are confident we can build everything up to ocean liners and in fifty years time,” says Dane on the company’s homepage, “people will look back at boats of the 20th Century and they’ll say “where are the wings?”.