Human settlements

Renewable energy

Solar photovoltaics 14: Solar Sailor - A catamaran powered by dual renewable energy

Renewable Energy Commercialisation in Australia, Australian Greenhouse Office, 2003
NOTE: The status of these projects will have changed since the time of publication, and project contacts may also have changed.

Solar Sailor is the world's first commercial passenger vessel to be effectively fuelled by wind and sun-either separately or in combination.

A $1 million grant, received by Solar Sailor Holdings Pty Ltd under the Renewable Energy Commercialisation Program, was a key component in achieving the manufacture of the world's first commercially viable passenger vessel powered by dual renewable energy.

Solar Sailor-a 21 metre, 100 seat, multipurpose catamaran- is the brainchild of a medical practitioner living at Ulladulla on the south coast of NSW. It is the first vessel to be efficiently fuelled by the dual energies of the wind and sun and is now operating commercially on Sydney Harbour.

The international spotlight fell on Solar Sailor during the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. This was a major opportunity to not only demonstrate the commercial viability of such vessels powered by a synergy of solar and wind energy, but also to showcase Australia's commitment to innovative renewable energy technologies and greenhouse gas reduction.

The $3 million vessel is the culmination of three years of research and development. Dr Robert Dane, the Managing Director of Solar Sailor was driven to develop it because he believes the world must shift from its dependency on non-renewable fossil fuels.

Other land and marine vehicles and vessels have sought to use either solar or wind energy, but Solar Sailor's technology enables the use of energy from the wind and sun separately or in combination. An earlier prototype successfully proved the concept's effectiveness, demonstrating the speed, versatility and reliability of this hybrid power system with its ability to quickly change from one power system to the other as conditions require.

In most respects, Solar Sailor is similar to conventional vessels, but the breakthrough lies in its use of eight unique and aerodynamic solar wings on its roof. A world first, these patented, lightweight 'wingsails' are embedded with an array of photovoltaic solar energy cells. On Solar Sailor the panels can track the sun in two planes, providing a proven 40 per cent increase in solar energy which contrasts with the fixed nature of many land-based solar panels. It is estimated that when powered solely by renewable energy, the vessel will be capable of achieving 12-14 knots.

With the wings fully upright Solar Sailor sails like a conventional vessel but with its wings angled to the sun it could sail on solar energy alone. On the rare days with neither wind nor adequate sunlight it can be powered by batteries or liquid petroleum gas.

In addition to reducing noise, air and water pollution from diesel exhaust, the data indicates that Solar Sailor will save 250,000 litres of diesel fuel consumed per vessel annum by its conventional counterparts. This is equivalent to an annual saving of 670 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per vessel.

Although the capital cost of manufacturing these vessels is currently around 20 per cent more than for the conventional equivalent, the company is confident that new technologies and the economics of scale will diminish this margin considerably over the next decade. However, even at current prices, depending on the degree of usage, a purchaser could expect to recoup this differential within five years through fuel savings.

The company is also confident that there is considerable international potential for the technology. Some of Europe's inland waterways have already banned vessels that burn fossil fuels, and further bans are likely. Solar Sailor Pty Ltd anticipates both licensing and joint venturing with other boat builders worldwide.

In 1999 Solar Sailor Pty Ltd won the gold medal at the Asian Innovation Awards, leading to expressions of interest from many countries including the US, Canada, India, Switzerland, Germany and China. The company is also confident that in the longer term, the technology will have applications far beyond its initial marine commercialisation.

For more information please contact

Dr Paul Scully-Power
Chairman, Solar Sailor Holdings
Ground Floor, 160 Sailors Bay Road
Northbridge NSW 2063
Tel (02) 4454 4328
Fax (02) 4454 4329

Dr Robert Dane
Founder and Managing Director
Solar Sailor Holdings Pty Ltd
PO Box 336 Ulladulla NSW 2539
Tel (02) 9417 0708
Fax (02) 9417 0708

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