The newest vessel in Sydney's fleet of ferries offers more than just the possibility of a boat ride in the sun: it gives you a boat ride from the sun. Solar Sailor, the world's largest solar vessel and the first passenger ferry able to be totally powered by alternative energy, made its debut on the city's picturesque harbour.
Its sleek looks and high performance could revolutionise water transport and consign noisy, smelly marine diesels to the polluted dustbin of history.
Photovoltaic panels cover all the flat surfaces, including eight 'wings' that sprout along its roofline. These streamlined sails serve the dual purpose of catching both the sun and the wind and can be electronically configured to gather maximum amounts of both resources. As a result Solar Sailor produces no water pollution, low wash, minimal noise and low fumes.
The energy gathered by its solar panels is put to work by two 40-kilowatt electric motors designed and built at the University of Technology (UTS), Sydney. These motors are the latest generation of a research collaboration between the UTS Faculty of Engineering and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. The permanent magnet, brushless DC motors and their control system were custom-made. They run at an energy efficiency of 96% and weigh only 113kg each: a quarter of the mass of an induction motor of equivalent power.
The vessel can carry up to 100 passengers and will be heavily involved in transporting visiting tourists and VIP's during the Sydney Olympics in September. The natural sources of power are supported by a battery and a back-up LPG gas generator. These can be used individually or in combination to maximise the reliability of the vessel in all conditions.
It is estimated that fully loaded with 100 passengers, the Solar Sailor will reach speeds of 5 – 7 knots on solar power alone, and 10 – 12 knots sailing in trade winds.