OUR GREAT MINDS

    by Tina Olivero

    Are Solar Ships Our Future?

    On a sunny summer Newfoundland day, in the heart of St. John’s harbor, I had the privilege of coming aboard the first solar vessel to sail around the world. Greeted by the welcoming smile of the French Captain, Gerard d’Aboville, I took an elaborate tour of one of the most successful marine solar innovations on the planet—the MS Turanor PlanetSolar. Complete with kitchen, 16 berths, a navigational room, solar decks, and scientific experimental facilities, the Turanor is truly the result of a remarkable vision. Turanor is the name derived from The Lord of The Rings novel and means “The Power of the Sun.”

    When you climb the stairs to her deck, you see a vast array of solar panels that spread out like the wings of a bird, to catch the maximum amount of the sun’s rays. The wings or solar panels on PlanetSolar allow it to expose a total of 516 m2 of photovoltaic surface to the sun. The solar panels connect to two electric motors in each hull. There are 8.5 tons of lithium-ion batteries in its two hulls, and the ship can reach speeds of up to 14 knots. What that means is that this boat uses no fuel whatsoever, and it is the largest solar vessel on the planet. Weighing in at 100 tons, PlantSolar is a powerful demonstration of what’s possible and what the future holds.

    In May of 2012, the Turanor PlanetSolar completed its first trip around the world, powered exclusively by solar energy. Since the success of the initial global voyage, PlanetSolar is now diversifying into other realms. She is embarking on a waste collection campaign, hosting educational events, and is currently showing off her practical applications for photovoltaic energy in the area of scientific research on climate change and weather effects on the Gulf Stream.

    The MS Turanor PlanetSolar, manned by a technically competent crew of scientists, was hired by the University of Geneva for a progressive deepwater expedition that will measure the effects of our global climate shifts on the Gulf Stream and ultimately how the shifts will impact Western Europe. The project, led by professor and climatologist Martin Beniston of the University of Geneva, worked to harvest new data along the Gulf Stream, in such a way as to measure ocean currents and temperatures which have not been distorted by traditional fuel-based vessels.

    Captain Gerard d’Aboville says, “Even the smallest temperature change in the Gulf Stream will have a devastating impact in Western Europe. One of the things we are studying is the chemical composition of the air, very close to the surface. Because of these delicate readings the University of Geneva needed a vessel that was free of emissions. PlanetSolar was the only vessel in the world capable of handling this scientific exploration. We expect to see the findings coming out in 2014.”

    When I asked Captain d’Aboville if he saw solar vessels taking over the job of traditional energy transport vessels, he laughed and said, “Right now, there are better solutions for transportation vessels in the energy sector. We are headed for an energy “cocktail mix,” where tidal energy, solar energy, wind energy, and other energy forms will combine in the best ways possible to create the highest energy output.”

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