The first great explorers of our planet were sailors. You had to be a brave soul to voluntarily embark on any seafaring journey. Scurvy, storms, and sharks were but a few of the terrors that awaited would-be sailors, who had to cross thousands of miles of ocean relying solely on wind power to get them to their destinations. Shipping has never been as clean and green as it was during the Age of Sail.
Today, most ships are used to haul goods moreso than people, and rely on heavy-oil burning engines. A huge container ship can emit as much pollution as 50 million cars. But on Thursday PlanetSolar unveiled the world’s largest solar-powered ship. Relying on about 38,000 solar cells, the PlanetSolar ship can achieve a top speed… of 9 mph. And that would be fast enough to make it the fastest solar ship to cross the Atlantic ocean.
While the speed of the PlanetSolar ship may be underwhelming, the technology is pretty impressive. The 38,000 solar cells were provided by SunPower, which claims each cell has a 22% efficiency rate… pretty high for solar cells. And since this boat runs solely on the sun, there are no fuel costs. The PlanetSolar ship has been designed to be the first ship to make a round-the-world journey on solar power, and plans to set off in April of 2011. At 9 mph, the trip will take approximately 140 days of solar sailing, not counting stops at Hamburg, London, Paris, New York, San Francisco, Singapore, and Abu Dhabi along the way.
The PlanetSolar is actually a catamaran, meaning it has more than one hull. This design no doubt helps the ship slip through the water with ease and maintain stability. Weighing in at 60 tons and over 100 ft long, with solar panels covering most of the ship, it can supposedly capture over 100 kw of energy, even though its engine needs just 20 kw to drive the ship.
How much does this technology cost? Oh, about $24 million. The ship was designed by a Swiss man named Raphael Domjan, who will captain the ship on its journey. There will be just one other crewman on board, Gérard d’Aboville, a famous French mariner.
Could this encourage more ship makers to take a hard look at renewable power sources as a source of shipping power? Why didn’t they combine some sails with the solar power? They could have been neat!