Solar-powered boat

A team of students at Southampton University has completed final testing of a solar-powered boat ahead of the global Solar Splash boating competition in Arkansas.


A team of students at the University of Southampton has completed final testing of a solar-powered boat ahead of the global Solar Splash boating competition in Arkansas.


Working alongside the student branch of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the students from the university’s School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) have created a design that they will enter into five separate events between 27 and 31 May.


Team Tarka leader, Dr Peter Wilson, said: ‘The main challenge was the battery power – we use batteries to store the solar-generated energy efficiently – and ensuring that our mechanical propeller could turn all the electrical energy we have into forward thrust. Despite this, our initial trials showed speeds of 24.4km per hour – measured with GPS – with plenty more power to use. We have now shipped the boat, but will continue improving the motor drive system for the next month.’



The design incorporates 3m2 of advanced high-efficiency solar panels. Due to budget constraints, the panels used in the design were taken from commercial items, but are based on nanotechnology techniques currently being developed at the university.



Dr Wilson added: ‘Recent research could make it possible to have even more efficient panels than these in the future, perhaps even for next year. The current limits of efficiency are around 21 per cent, and improving that by relatively small amounts can make huge inroads into the viability of this as a technology.’


Southampton is currently investigating nanostructures found in moth eyes and wings that allow them to avoid predators. These antireflective structures could be beneficial to solar cells where the aim is to transmit as much of the solar spectrum through the surface and into the cell as possible. The research is being led by Prof Darren Bagnall at the university’s School of Photovoltaics.