|The Electric Boat Association’s fleet includes a growing number of solar boats.
Some are run as passenger boats by business members, others are privately owned.
The boats are extremely diverse, ranging from small lightweight craft designed
to take just one or two crew up to passenger boats capable of carrying 50 or
more people, and a private 68ft canal barge which is presently the largest
electric boat on the UK’s inland waterways. What all these craft have in common
is their use of onboard solar photovoltaic (PV) modules to charge propulsion
batteries, producing a very environmentally benign method of transport.
||The solar fleet includes Collinda, a 22ft (6.7m) catamaran owned
by EBA President Malcolm Moss, in which he made the first-ever solar-powered
crossing of the English Channel in 1997; a solar canoe owned by Cedric Lynch
which has featured in the Guinness Book of Records and holds the record speed for a solar-powered boat;
and the 21ft (6.4m) catamaran Solar Flair in which Paul and Ulrike Lynn
made the first-ever solar-powered cruise along the entire non-tidal Thames in
2003 (124 miles, 43 locks).
Solar Passenger Trip
The following operators offer trips on solar passenger boats.
We recommend you visit the relevant website and/or telephone before
your intended trip to confirm sailing schedules and availability.
Loch Lomond & The
Trossachs National Park Authority
Boat: Bata Greine 43 ft
Takes up to 12 people from the Duncan Mills
Memorial Slipway, Balloch, Loch Lomond.
phone: 01389 722030
Bluebird Boats Serpentine Hyde Park, London
Boat: Solarshuttle 48ft (14.4m) catamaran,
Takes up to 42 passengers on
trip across the serpentine
departs at 30 min intervals (adults £3)
phone: 0207 262 1330
Chichester Harbour Conservancy
Boat: 46ft (14m) catamaran
phone: 01243 513275
|New Era Boat Trips
is a new and unique way of
traveling along the Caledonian Canal in Inverness.
Norfolk Broads Authority
Boat: 29ft (8.8m) catamaran Ra
takes up to 12 people including wheelchair
users from Gay's Staithe on a 1¼ hour trip round the recently restored
phone: 01603 782281
For technical details of the boats -
The EBA publish an Information Sheet
on “Solar Photovoltaics”
which gives a full account of PV and its use in solar boats.
A copy may be requested from the EBA Secretary:
(free to members, £1.50 for non-members)
Solar Powered Boats
An article by Andreas Kindlimann of
Grove Boats, Yvonand,
|While experiments with electric powered craft began in the 1830s (and included
the work of such pioneers as Englishman Sir William Grove who was the first to
introduce fuel cells as a source of energy on board a boat) it wasn't until the
1890s that electric boats became popular, especially in England where the clean
and silent electric craft were often preferred to smoky steam driven boats. In
the late 1890s electric charging stations along the River Thames were
commonplace. The success story of the diesel and petrol engine brought an abrupt
end to the development of electric boats, and it wasn't until people became more
aware of environmental issues and solar cells became readily available that the
second birth of electric boat production began. The first documented solar
powered boat was Solar Craft 1 built by Alan T. Freeman which made its maiden
voyage on 19th February 1975 (see Electric Boat News Volume 21, number 2,
click image to enlarge
Solar Craft 1
It was clear from the beginning that along with the problems
relating to energy storage, the resistance of the hulls would have to be reduced
to a minimum. That is why the first solar craft consisted of simple photovoltaic
panels set up on canoe-like hulls. These boats were often highly efficient, but
also vulnerable and not very seaworthy. The initiatives came either from
enthusiastic environmental activists or universities and technical high schools.
At that time virtually no commercially orientated boat manufacturer thought that
there was a market for solar powered craft, due to the lack of acceptance of
solar powered boats by the general public.
|In the 1990s, some pioneers developed the technology further, enabling the
first boats to enter commercial service, mainly around inland waterways - see
the Solifleur in use on Lake Neuchatel as early as 1994. Built by the Swiss
company MW-Line, it was financed by the nature friendly Yves Rocher cosmetics
company and still runs today through a nature reserve.
That decade saw quite a number of solar boat races organised
throughout Europe and the USA, popularising the concept and further developing
the techniques. The Frisian Solar Challenge remains a widely sought after
competition (unofficially called the World Cup for Solar Powered Boats),
bringing together engineering schools, passionate boat builders and even some
Improved battery storage and performance of the photovoltaic panels opened the
way to ‘world premières’: the Channel was first crossed in 1997 by SB Collinda,
the Pacific in 1996 by Malt's Mermaid and for us Europeans probably the most
significant, the first Atlantic Crossing by Sun21 which left Basel to reach New
York in 2007.
click image to enlarge
Sun21 on her 7,000 mile
journey from Basel in
Switzerland to New York May 2007
These developments proved that solar powered boats can do very well; the
downside of their relative lower speed being very much offset by their
advantages of silent navigation, zero emissions, little wavemaking and last but
not least low operating costs.
Recent developments in the fields of solar powered water craft
Two main factors encouraged the current growth of solar powered boats:
technology and popularity, setting up the foundations for an emerging commercial
a) Technological improvements:
Energy storage: helped by recent developments notably in portable
electronics (laptops, phones) and then industrialised in the massive
quantities demanded by the automotive world, new types of batteries
appeared alongside the well known and proven lead-acid batteries:
Nickel-Cadmium, Lithium-Polymers etc. While some of these new
products still face some issues (high costs, security, lack of
recyclable circuits) they very clearly opened the door for extended
range, lower weight and faster recharging time as well as longer
Improved performances of the photovoltaic panels: improvement in both production
techniques and the implementation of solar-tracking mechanisms resulted in a
drastically increased efficiency of the newer generation of PV panels (cell
performances of 22%, enabling an overall 18% performance per panel, are now
largely the norm). In addition, mass-production (solar powered boats used
industrial standards, i.e. identical to the ones that one can install on a roof
or a PV-Solar farm) enabled a steep price decrease.
Hybrid systems: after the natural
move to enable the batteries to be recharged from the grid as for any
pure electric boat, new sources of energy appeared as a complement to
the solar power: diesel operated in-board generators or even fuel-cell
(see the Hamburg WHY super yacht). On top of the improved batteries,
these systems function as range-extenders, sometimes necessary to
overcome the relatively limited range. These hybrid systems start to
blur the difference between a ’pure solar’ and a ‘pure electric’ boat.
quite a few factors explain a shift toward a better understanding
and a stronger interest in solar powered boats.
The automotive industry’s move towards electric vehicles certainly explains a
massive shift towards a better understanding and confidence in electric
In the same way, the ever increasing surfaces covered with photovoltaic panels
popularised solar energy as a trusted source of power.
The increased oil price and global geopolitical context in oil producing
countries as well as the recent Fukushima catastrophe definitively encourage a
move towards a ‘green and clean’ attitude benefiting, solar-powered boats.
Also important, the legislative framework evolved in some areas encouraging the
use of less polluting water craft and thus indirectly encouraging solar-powered
boats: partial or total prohibition of combustion engines (see for example some
Austrian Alpine lakes), the move away from 4-stroke motors as well as limited
speed or engine-power (Swiss lakes for example) or even reserving some harbour
slots for electric motors only (Lake Annecy in France is currently introducing
such a scheme).
Lastly, a significant number of boat users now demand a more relaxing, quieter
and cleaner approach to navigation. Solar powered boats, with their pollution
free zero emissions, quiet and clean propulsion fulfil these aspirations.
The above factors explain the
increased demand for solar-powered craft, a commercial market is
thus slowly developing along the following lines:
Boats for private users: the
Tamarack Lake Boats produces the Loon (winner of the 2010
Mansura Trophy, inland waters); a French one the sea-going
Aequus family dayboat.
Professional transport, focus on
tourism: the Swiss based
Grove Boats continues the pioneering
work of MW-Line and further develops the famous ‘Aquabus’
Professional transport, focus on
collective transport: the German based Kopf-solar competes with
the French Alt-En
Experimental projects: quite a
few newcomers, among them the Australian based
The PlanetSolar team is currently on its way to being the first watercraft to
successfully circumnavigate the globe, demonstrating that a 95 ton ‘super yacht’
can rely on solar power exclusively. Obviously the average speed is far lower
than comparable diesel driven yachts, but such a superyacht would also sail much
slower if she needed to circumnavigate the globe with only one tank filling.
Nevertheless other super yachts are quietly integrating solar power as a partial
source of energy; the same goes for commercial craft, noting that again hybrid
is the key word: wind (‘sky sails’ and wind turbines), fuel cells and other
innovations like the use of hydro generators are joining forces with the sun to
offer a less polluting and more enjoyable way to cruise on the waters of our
click image to enlarge
Futuristic - PlanetSolar
Links to Solar Related
First self sufficient ocean-going electric yacht
www.transatlantic21.org - First
crossing of the Atlantic under solar power
Solar Navigator Project:
World's first solar boat circumnavigation attempt
www.planetsolar.org - Around the World in 80 Days
by renewable energies
www.la-maison-du-soleil-17.com/batsol - French
Solar boat project