NYT: Around the World on Solar Power Alone

Sep. 23, 2011

Posted by Yiting Wang under Energy and the Environment
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By BETTINA WASSENER

HONG KONG — Almost a year ago, the Turanor PlanetSolar, a sleek catamaran that bears a resemblance to a giant water beetle, set off from Monaco on a voyage around the globe. Later this month it will arrive in Singapore, having amassed proof that it is possible to traverse the world’s oceans on solar power alone.

The PlanetSolar is a pioneering experiment. Rather than trying to reproduce the vessel for commercial use, said Raphael Domjan, a Swiss national who set up the project in 2004, the point of the project is to prove that solar technology can do far more than it currently does. “We want to show to the world what can be done, that modern solar technology has huge economic potential,” Mr. Domjan said recently in a telephone interview.

“The idea is to provide an impulse to the industry to consider alternatives, to think about innovative ways to reduce their energy needs.” Solar panels are, of course, widely used on yachts and powerboats to power on-board appliances, for example. But the PlanetSolar goes much further: It is 100 percent solar-powered and is the first such vessel to attempt a circumnavigation of the globe.

Mr. Domjan — a former ambulance driver, mountain guide and rescue specialist — spent years raising funds before the PlanetSolar finally became a reality last year.

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Still, the PlanetSolar’s voyage coincides with a major, and relatively recent, rethinking of the shipping industry about fuel efficiency and the environment. Global shipping has expanded dramatically in recent decades. Ships now carry 90 percent of the world’s trade and account for about 3 percent of global carbon emissions — equivalent to those of a major national economy, according to the International Chamber of Shipping.

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