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Sailboat Goes Solar
by Timothy Georgi

Dr. Robert Dane, a successful New South Wales (NSW) medical practitioner, had a passion for sailing. In 1996 he attended an annual Advanced Technology Boat Race in Canberra. What he saw at the boat race inspired him to sell his medical practice and build a boat that he hoped would win the next year’s event.

While reading a book on insects, he was amazed at how these small creatures used their wings as solar collectors. This concept became an important part of Dr. Dane’s choice to power his boat with photovoltaic (PV) panels and still use wind power in the multiple purpose sails.
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Twelve mouths later, Dr. Dane had a working prototype called the Marjorie K. It only used photovoltaic panels to capture the sun and wind energy. The Marjorie K was entered in an international competition and completed more laps at Lake Burly Griffin than all of the other 40 national and international competitors. This victory demonstrated that a solar sail was viable, no longer a dream but a reality. So, Dr. Dane then set about building a team and raising money to make a bigger solar sail boat. The result was a hybrid, combining sails which are pushed by the wind and collectors of PV, to simultaneously power the boat. The sails can be oriented in two axes to capture sunlight with 40% greater efficiency than if in fixed position. Dr. Dane, using these design concepts, constructed the first Solar Sailor which can carry up to 100 passengers and two crew.

For the next two years the team worked on the project voluntarily, with some members giving up a promising careers to join the venture. Dr. Dane had beat a path to potential investors and supporters to obtain the funding necessary to keep the Solar Sailor program afloat.

Adobe Photoshop ImageThe Solar Sailor works as a charter boat out of the Sydney harbor, carrying up to 100 passengers for transport, sight seeing and dining. Using the system’s hybrid concept, Solar Sailor Holdings anticipates a demand for this type of vessel in mass transit, ECO tourism and leisure water craft travel around the world. +

Today, Solar Sailor Holdings operates the first commercial vehicle in the world to be powered by the sun and wind in combination. The photovoltaic panels deliver an average of 12 kW of power to drive the propellers. An electric motor connects a bank of Lead-acid batteries that can be charged from the solar panels or a land based power grid when in the harbor. When the sun is down, the wind is calm, and the batteries are depleted, the Solar Sailor continues to be operated by a motor generator burring relative clean LPG or CNG.

The sails have a unique non-glass flexible PV solar cell which has a high degree of flexibility, thus facilitating sail mounting and allowing for sail flexing.

The Solar Sailor uses a computer to control the Hybrid Power System, integrating optimal control from the available solar and wind power in conjunction with the backup batteries and LPG generator.
The principal benefits of the Solar Sailor Hybrid Power System, compared to conventional marine transport power methods, include:
‚Lower operating costs through fuel saving and lower maintenance costs
‚Zero water pollution
‚Significant reduction in air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions
‚Greater passenger comfort through reduced noise, vibration and noxious odor emissions.

The Solar Sailor Hybrid Power System uses lightweight electric motors for propulsion, which offer a significant advantage over conventional diesel motors including:

<Better power conversion efficiency- Electric motors convert 60 to 85 per cent of energy supplied to usable power as compared with the best internal combustion engine which converts around 30 to 40 per cent of the energy with the remainder being lost as heat.
<Increased output- Electric engines offer higher torque at low revs, thereby providing direct drive and avoiding the need for a gearbox.
<Reduced weight and space requirements- Electric motors are considerably lighter and smaller.
<Reduced maintenance- Electric motors have fewer moving parts which minimizes maintenance.
<Low noise- Electric motors are quieter, generating less vibration .

The obvious benefits are low operating costs and minimal pollution, using solar and wind power. By adding battery and engine power, Solar Sailor is always available to operate. As a quieter cleaner boat, Solar Sailor and its progeny will provide an exciting water transportation platform.