Solar boat promotes path to cleaner fuel

Story highlights

  • PlanetSolar, the world's largest solar-powered boat stops off in Hong Kong to promote green energy
  • Solar yacht has 537-square meters of photovoltaic cells which can produce 94 kilowatts of power
  • Captain of Planet Solar hopes shipping industry will embrace solar energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
She's traveled more than 35,000 kilometers hugging the equator, powered entirely by the sun.
PlanetSolar, the world's largest solar powered boat, recently stopped off in Hong Kong's Victoria Harbor as part of its 18-month journey around the world.
Measuring 31 meters (102 feet) long and 15 meters (49 feet) wide, the catamaran is powered by 537-square meters of photovoltaic solar panels.
On a sunny day they produce on average 94 kilowatts of power -- the equivalent to 127 horsepower.
Seventy-five percent of the energy propels the boat that travels between 5 and 10 knots an hour. The remainder is used for everything else from flushing toilets to operating the boat's navigational systems.
Planet Solar sails a 'green' wave
Planet Solar sails a 'green' wave


    Planet Solar sails a 'green' wave


Planet Solar sails a 'green' wave 03:51
PlanetSolar is the brainchild of 39-year-old Swiss Raphael Domjan.
While hiking in Iceland, the former ambulance driver was alarmed to see how quickly the glaciers were melting and decided to find a novel way to raise awareness of global warming.
"If we can go out on the road with this boat, it's a huge boat, only on solar energy, and we live on this boat, everything is working the computer, the telephone, everything is on solar energy. It means everyone can use solar and renewable energy at home everyday," Domjan said.
Built in Germany at the cost of $26 million dollars, this vessel tracks the sun thanks to state-of-the-art solar technology.
"We can travel around three days with no light," explains Christian Ochsenbein, chief engineer aboard the boat.
"But usually there is light everyday even if it's raining. So when we come in a bad weather situation we can expand this time, we reduce this speed and we sail for about 5 days before we run out of battery," he added.
Planet Solar set sail from Monaco in September 2010 crossing the Atlantic, the Panama Canal and is currently in the Pacific. Next stop is Singapore.
It will then travel across the Indian Ocean and the Suez Canal before finally returning to the Mediterranean where it plans to dock back in Monaco in May next year.
French captain, Erwann Le Rouzic (one of six crew members on board), says that while the technology has been faultless, Mother Nature has proven to be a challenge.
"When you cross to the south of the planet you always find rain, strong winds and big waves, so we passed all this with lots of patience and humility, because you are always humble against bad weather," Le Rouzic explains.
In every port, the catamaran and its message has been warmly received. It's hoped the shipping industry -- responsible for 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations -- embraces this technology the same way the public has.
"One day we won't have any more oil anywhere. Maybe it's in 50,100, 200 years but one day we will have no more oil and we'll have to find another way to live," Domjan said.
And if Planet Solar completes its mission, the crew says that will be proof that the sun, and solar power, is the answer.