Contributing Monkie G Living Staff Monkies
Published on October 4, 2007
Heads and thumbs up for the greenest sailors on the blue highway, Solar Sailor Holdings. An Australian company focused on hybrid marine power and solar wing technology, Solar Sailor came about when founder Robert Dane was watching the 1996 Canberra boat race. That year, the winning boat used a solar panel inclined toward the sun. The only problem with the concept was that as the wind grew stronger, the panel became a hazard and had to be pulled down. This intrigued Dane enough to start wondering how to combine sun and wind to power a modern, seaworthy boat. Dane, a doctor, ex-NSW green ambassador, avid sailor and rower says, “I started reading about evolution and learned that insects had initially used wings as solar collectors and only later used them to fly. This made me think that boats, too, could evolve wings to collect solar power – not to allow them to fly, but to allow them to sail.”
Dane realized he could use a wing sail that doubled as a solar collector, and could adapt to sudden changes in weather by folding it onto the ship’s roof. Unlike the inspirational 1996 race boat, Dane’s sail could collect solar energy without destabilizing the boat. He registered the idea at the patent office and took his first solar sailing boat back to the Canberra race in 1997. In 1999, he founded Solar Sailor Holdings Ltd., with Bob Hawke (ex Prime Minister of Australia) coming on board as Chairman.
Now one of 25 innovators from around the world to be honored by The Tech Museum Awards: Technology Benefiting Humanity, Solar Sailor’s aim is beyond winning boat races. It goal is cut a ship’s fuel costs by up to 90 percent while significantly lowering its environmental impact. The technology – which is currently bing used on one of their 100 seater eco-tourism ferries in Sydney Harbor, and is slated for a trimaran ferry in New York – can be applied to everything from cruise ships to water transport tankers to small unmanned military vessels.The ships are controlled by a computer system that picks up on the wind force and solar power and assesses when the wing sail should be unfolded and retracted. At the same time, it monitors the charging of the batteries and assesses the most efficient combination of energy use.
While these vessels may cost more initially, they’re well worth it. The 600 passenger New York trimaran (slated to start running to the Statue of Liberty in 2008) costs approximately $2-3 million dollars more than a conventional ferry, but could cut down on fuel by a third each year. Add to the benefits no noise, no vibration and little wake to disturb marine life (plus the potential that moored energy from the boat could supply energy to the docks), and it’s a wonder these vessels aren’t more common.
Dane knows Solar Sailor’s technology is ideal for in-harbor runs, and admits that the energy storage technology is in need of improvement. His belief is that when the battery technology has the energy density, their vessels will be everywhere. So far, the trimaran ferry is the proven vessel and therefore the most sought after; it currently has interest from San Francisco, Hong Kong, Germany and Shanghai. Solar Sailor has also designed an aquatanker, a prototype for a leisure boat called ‘”The Marjorie K”, and catamarans that seat between 100 and 250 passengers. The Solar Sailor concept has also attracted the interest of a U.S. company, Unmanned Ocean Vehicles, with whom they are teaming up to develop marine drones that run exclusively on renewable energy.
Sounds like Solar Sailor will continue to gain and hold the interest of those who care to keep our oceans free of petroleum. They are the real deal.