The case could be made that the world’s most successful solar vehicle is not a car, lunar go cart, scooter or plane, but a boat. And while we are used to seeing a low-slung, ultra lightweight solar car plug down a flat track or a gossamer-winged solar glider wobble aloft for a flight, we’re not really used to seeing solar vehicles pitted in an epic struggle against the violent, capricious forces of nature. Now something like a circumnavigation of the globe — that’s a solar record. And that’s just what the Tûranor PlanetSolar seems ready to do.
The Swiss boat, entirely powered by solar power, set out 18 months ago from Monaco to do what Ferinand Magellan did via wind power in 1519 — travel around the world. And they went the long way, sticking close to the equator due to the presence of abundant sunlight. At this writing the voyage has been underway for close to 500 days (including a large number of port stops) with about three months remaining till they once again pull into Monaco’s port.
So what’s taking the boat so long? Well, aside from the numerous port stops, the boat’s optimal speed is only about four to five knots, about six miles per hour. While top speed is up to 14 knots, the crew attempts to maintain the lower speed which keeps the ship’s lithium ion battery at least 30 to 40 percent charged at all times. With a full charge, the boat’s engines are capable of running for up to three days.
So what do you need to putt around the world in a solar ship? What’s under the hood of this $16.3 million sun ship? The Turanor – which takes its name from J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel The Lord of the Rings and translates to “The Power of the Sun” – gets its energy from more than 5780 square feet of solar panels.
That 703-panel array covers the boats deck and provides 93.5 kW to the boat’s two engines. Those engines make 127 horsepower, enough, it seems, to push the world’s biggest solar ship (more than 100 feet long, about 95 tons) around the globe.
While they’ve not yet become the first solar ship to circumnavigate the world, the Turanor has already set two records: the fastest crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by solar boat and longest distance ever covered by a solar electric vehicle.