Solar Ships: Not A Pipe Dream Anymore


More and more businesses, homeowners and even utilities have seen fit to invest in solar installations in recent years. Increasing efficiency and declining costs have made many of these systems a worthwhile investment regardless of solar incentives.

But electricity, as critical as it is to modern society, still only represents a portion of the energy used, with a great deal going to heating and, in particular, transportation. Solar power has made some inroads into both, particularly with the recent development of mainstream electric cars, but this remains a small part of the market.

However, the BBC reports that one Australian company has taken some major strides toward bringing solar energy to one of the most important transportation sectors – shipping. Based in Castlecrag, New South Wales, to the north of Sydney, Solar Sailor has developed a variety of systems using solar installations to help reduce the fuel needs of boats ranging from smaller ferries to full-scale freighter ships.

While the MS Tûranor PlanetSolar has made headlines recently, nearing the completion of its circumnavigation of the globe using solar power exclusively, Solar Sailor takes a more pragmatic approach to the shipping industry. The company hopes to incorporate solar installations to reduce fuel consumption, rather than attempting to sell companies on technology that is entirely unproven for commercial-scale transportation purposes.

Part of this actually means relying on wind as much as solar power. Most of Solar Sailor’s designs actually incorporate solar installations into large sails that can be folded up while coming into port. However, while engines are running at a relatively low speed, batteries charged by these large solar arrays replace the traditional diesel and bunker fuel engines.

“[The bunker fuel used by larger freighters is] like tar, you have to heat it up to make it liquid so it will flow,” Robert Dane, the founder of Solar Sailor, told the BBC. “These incredibly powerful engines run on incredibly cheap but dirty fuel so what we can do in the short-term is to ensure they use less fuel.”

Projections for fuel savings look substantial as well. Solar Sailor is negotiating to fit a new ore freighter with three large “solar sails” that should save between 20 and 40 percent on annual fuel costs from wind power and between 3 and 6 percent from the solar arrays.

Business Green reports that Tûranor recently opened the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, where world leaders have discussed ways to encourage the adoption of renewables. At present, the steady pressure of high fuel costs seems that it might be the best solution.

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1 Comment

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