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Chasing the Sun – MV Tûranor PlanetSolar
Like many people who keep their eyes and ears open for news of an environmental nature I heard that Tûranor PlanetSolar had arrived in Brisbane, Australia so on the1st of June, I made my way down to the Riverside area to see for myself this groundbreaking yacht.
The name Tûranor comes from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and quite appropriately means ‘The power of the sun.’ The Tûranor PlanetSolar will become the first ever boat to circumnavigate the world using solar power alone. And while there are others who have used environmentally friendly means before such as Earthrace and achieved it faster, Tûranor’s purpose was not so much speed as proving it could be done.
The brain child of Raphaël Domjan an engineer and pilot from Switzerland and with the support of German eco-businessman Immo Ströher, the initial concept which began in the 1990s as a dream of creating a solar future has blossomed into an exciting, sleek and practical vehicle for not just traversing the oceans but to further the cause of solar powered transport in all its forms.
Commencing its journey in the Mediterranean at Monte Carlo in September 2010, Tûranor PlanetSolar has crossed the Atlantic, reached the Pacific via the Panama Canal, to arrive here in Australia. It will then continue its journey via the India Ocean to the Red Sea, where it will travel through the Suez Canal before returning again to the Mediterranean, a journey of approximately 50,000 kms.
Although this boat could be described as a concept vehicle, the concept is not so much the technology and style but how the existing and available technology has been put together to produce a boat that can travel, even on such a long journey on nothing but the power of the sun.
What I find really impressive about this boat is that the technology that powers it, the solar panels and the engines are not unique. What is unique is how they have been used to drive this vehicle using the power of the sun exclusively, and the power management system that keeps it running like clockwork and it has more than risen to the task.
Along with other members of the press I was invited on board where I spoke to Raphaël Domjan about the purpose behind their mission and their journey so far. The first thing that struck me was that unlike other concept vehicles, especially ones produced with the environment in mind, this 31 metre yacht is surprisingly spacious inside and can easily be transformed into a luxury yacht one would expect to see berthed in any high end marina.
The cock pit was comfortable and well appointed and brimming with high tech equipment used not only for navigation and communication but also the power management system that keeps watch of the output coming from the 537 square metres of photovoltaic modules, the power stored in the 648 lithium-ion battery cells and of course the power usage.
I asked Raphaël if the salt water impeded the performance of the solar panels and if they have to be cleaned regularly. He said they only clean the panels once every three weeks or so and that the salt water doesn’t have any noticeable effect, it’s not like the salt builds up at all. They are also approximately 7 metres above the ocean surface so it’s not like they are continuously drenched in sea water.
I asked about the problems they must face during long periods of bad and overcast weather. He said the most difficult period was just before reaching Australia. They had to contend with a storm, where there was very little sunlight, squalls of 35 knots and very rough seas with troughs of 4 to 5 meters. At that time the waves were breaching over the bow, so you can imagine how rough it was. All systems that were not vital had to be shut down to conserve power, including navigation, it was a very trying time but here we are. Apart from that the trip has been comfortable and pleasant and everywhere we go we are greeted warmly.
I asked where do they go from here once this journey is completed, what next? Of course he said they have to complete their journey, back to Monte Carlo and they do have plans to apply existing renewable energy technologies such as solar to other modes of transport. He said it may take a while before I will see the Brisbane River Ferry’s traversing the river on solar power but Tûranor PlanetSolar demonstrates that with more effort and improvements in existing technologies, in a few years time it is not out of the question.
The sponsors and partners of PlanetSolar have made a unique investment. Not one that is expected to make huge profits, not one that can be measured in monetary terms, though I imagine there is an accountant somewhere who will do it, but an investment in a dream, a dream for the future. A future where we are no longer reliant on fossil fuels, where we can live and flourish without it damaging our planet and the lives of future generations.
I wish Tûranor PlanetSolar a safe journey and sincerely hope that their message gets through to the public, business leaders and politicians. I have a dream.
If you wish to learn more about Tûranor PlanetSolar or to track its journey, go to www.planetsolar.org