Clean Energy on the High Seas: Solar-Powered Trimaran Sets Off on Eastern US Circumnavigation

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Cheaper, more efficient and more powerful than ever before, more and more Americans and people around the world are turning to solar photovoltaic (PV) panels to provide clean, renewable, and local electrical power for their homes. Adding significantly to the growing portion of America’s electricity that’s generated from solar energy are power utilities, more and more of whom — spurred on by state Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), other government incentives, and new regulations — are getting involved in US solar energy markets.

Though gains have been more difficult and slower to come by, substantial progress is also being made in terms of weaning US vehicles, motorists, planes, and maritime vessles off petroleum fuels. Accounting for 28.1% of total US energy consumption as of 2010, the transportation sector accounted for 29% of total US and over 5% of total global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to the Dept. of Transportation Center for Climate Change and Environmental Forecasting’s 2010 report to Congress.

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Solar Power: On Land, in the Air, and on the Water

The Obama Administration has made notable strides in greening transportation in government. Notably, that includes significant initiatives and sizable investments by the US Armed Forces, the largest consumer of fossil fuels in the world. In the private sector, venture capital, private equity firms, and more traditional banking and finance industry enterprises are increasingly driving a US clean, renewable energy transition.

Yet more encouraging, a lot’s happening at the small-scale, grassroots level, as well. A wave of alternative fuels and clean tech innovation and entrepreneurship is being unleashed in the US, where evolution and growth in hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles and technology, as well as that for next-generation biofuels and waste-to-fuel energy innovation, is paving the way forward to greener ways of transport.

What’s happening in terms of land and airborne transportation is also happening on the water. US fuel consumption for water-borne transportation totaled 6,716 million gallons in 2010, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ Research and Innovative Technology Administration. Of the total, 4,206 million gallons of residual fuel oil, 1,343 million gallons of distillate/diesel fuel oil, and 1,167 million gallons of gasoline were consumed in water transport.

Sailors have long looked to harness wind energy to propel their vessels. In modern times, solar panels and small wind turbines are almost standard equipment for generating electrical power for equipment operations on sail and motor vessels. Yet more recently, sailors have been mounting and incorporating solar PV panels on and into hulls and even sails for propulsion.

Taking advantage of continual advances in PV generating and battery storage, the first commercial maritime vessels began operating on waterways in the 1990s, mainly around inland waterways, recounts the UK-based Electric Boat Association (EBA). Built by the Swiss company MW-Line, the Solifleur has been working on Lake Neuchatel since 1994.

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