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solar powered boats

Solar Powered Boats - clean and efficient

Solar powered boats get their energy from the sun.  Using electric motors and storage batteries charged by solar panels and photovoltaic cells, solar powered boats can significantly reduce or eliminate their use of fossil fuels.  Solar boats are uniquely suited to transform light energy into movement. Environmentally friendly solar energy is an energy efficient way to power commercial oceangoing vessels as well as leisure boats. 

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Are there any solar powered boats in use?

In 2007, five Swiss sailors piloted a solar powered boat across the Atlantic Ocean. Using solar power only (via solar panels), the “sun21” made the first motorized crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in order to promote the great potential of renewable energy for ocean navigation and to combat climate change. The “sun21’ arrived in New York City on May 8, 2007, having covered 7000 sea miles.

What’s the design of the “sun21” solar powered boat?

The “sun21” is a 45.9-foot-long specially built solar powered boat known as a catamaran. On its canopy like roof are 48 silicon photovoltaic cells, which collect energy from sunlight and transmit it to a device in one of the narrow cabins. That device transmits the energy to the 3,600 pounds of storage batteries below the deck. The 11-ton solar boat was powered on the energy needed to light 10 100-watt light bulbs. The typical speed was 3.5 knots. The solar boat has two engines that can go up to 107 nautical miles a day in good weather.

The “sun21” sleeps 6 people and has room for large groups for visits or short excursions. The kitchen is in one hull and the bathroom is in the other.


Cool designs - solar electric boats

A passenger ferry in Sydney Harbour, Australia, called the Solar Sailor, can run on wind, sun, battery, or diesel, or in any combination. It uses patented Solar Wing technology to simultaneously capture sunlight for electricity and for wind power. The wings move automatically via computer, tracking the sun for optimal solar collection and the wind for optimal sail power. If it gets really windy, the wings fold down against the solar boat. Much like a hybrid car, large batteries on board the solar energy boat store electricity generated by the diesel generators and collected by the solar panels. The electricity then powers the electric motors.

Both passengers and the environment benefit from this new design. The solar boat is very quiet; there are no fumes, low vibration, no greenhouse gas emissions and no water pollution. BBC’s Tomorrow’s World described Solar Sailor’s technology as “possibly the greatest evolution in boats since the advent of steam.”

Two of these solar powered ferries (using the same design as the Sydney Harbour Ferry) are planned for passengers in the San Francisco Bay. They will accommodate 600 passengers each and be ready in 2009.

Solar powered boats - Solar panels for power

Solar panels are solar systems that produce electricity directly from sunlight. Solar panels produce clean, reliable electricity without consuming fossil fuels. Solar panel systems are an excellent way to generate energy in remote locations (the oceans) that are not connected to the electric grid.

What are the benefits of solar panels?

1.)  Solar panels are highly reliable and easy to maintain. Solar panels have no moving parts, so visual checks and servicing are enough to keep systems up and running. Solar panels are built to withstand hail impact, high wind, and freeze-thaw cycles. Solar panel systems can produce power in all types of weather. On partly cloudy days, they produce as much as 80% of their potential energy. Even on extremely cloudy days, they can still produce about 25% of their maximum output.

2.)  Virtually no environmental impact. Solar panel systems burn no fuel and have no moving parts. They are clean and silent, producing no atmospheric emissions or greenhouse gases that are harmful to the earth

3.)  Modular and flexible in terms of size and applications. Solar panel systems can be built to any size in response to the energy needs at hand. They can be enlarged or moved easily.

Sources: U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy,,,

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