Sailing with sun and wind

Carrying 100 passengers around Sydney Harbour, the Solar Sailor uses SolarWing technology – a hybrid energy collecting system that uses one structure to harness solar and wind energy.

In 1996 Dr Robert Dane, a man with a passion for sailing, science and technology, attended the annual Advanced Technology Boat Race in Canberra and was inspired to build a boat that went on to win the event the following year.

His creation used just the energy of the sun and wind to complete more laps of Lake Burley Griffin than any of its 40 competitors.

For the next two years Dane and his growing team sacrificed careers to develop the concept and keep the dream afloat. Now, the run-up to the Olympics – marketed as the ‘green games’ – has provided Dane with the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the Solar Sailor, an intriguing maritime innovation that is both quiet and pollution free.

Carrying 100 passengers around Sydney Harbour, the Solar Sailor uses Dane’s SolarWing technology; a hybrid energy collecting system that uses one structure to harness two of nature’s most fundamental forces: solar and wind energy.

A solar collector in the shape of a wing is pivotally mounted at its base to the vehicle and allows multi-plane movement to adapt to prevailing wind and sun conditions. According to the SolarSailor company, the concept exploits the phenomenon of wind energy being a cubic function of wind velocity; ‘solar power creates forward drive from an electric motor, which in turn creates ‘relative wind’. When added to the ‘true wind’, this increases the ‘apparent wind’, being the wind direction and strength as felt by an observer on the vessel (the sum of the vectors of ‘true’ and ‘relative wind’). The ‘apparent wind’ increases the amount of energy available to create forward drive.’

The SolarWing can be variably reefed or furled onto the roof of the boat and the sail area exposed to the wind can be smoothly reduced from 100% to zero as desired. It’s estimated that with a full load of 100 passengers, the boat will reach speeds of 5-7 knots on solar power alone.

With many waterways around the world banning the use of fossil fuelled boats, Solarwing’s creators believe it has untold export potential. Indeed, interested parties have come forward from the US, Canada, India, Switzerland, Germany, China and Japan.

While immediate opportunities lie in urban waterways, the Company expects that it will ultimately be used on ocean going vessels.