Circumnavigating the globe has always been a seafaring obsession. When Magellan and his crew managed to accomplish that ultimate feat of exploration in the 16th century, it was not, to say the least, enough for the generations of voyagers to come. Since Magellan, more powerful ships, planes, balloons, blimps and even intrepid hikers have made the journey.
Soon, solar power will join the ranks of history’s circumnavigators. A solar-powered plane intended to traverse the globe has undergone initial tests, and in Switzerland, an elite crew of adventurers has begun construction of a fully solar-powered boat that will span the globe in 2011. The project, called PlanetSolar, aims to inspire technological developments in all aspects of solar energy, from new composite materials to energy storage. PlanetSolar wants to prove that solar power can accomplish anything, from powering our homes to mobilizing ocean voyages.
It will be the first round-the-world boat trip powered exclusively by solar energy, and it won’t go unnoticed. The PlanetSolar expedition will stop over at several major port cities around the world, including San Francisco, New York, Miami, Marseilles, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Singapore. Recently, the PlanetSolar Village, a modular “village” made up of three solar-powered dome tents, was inaugurated in Switzerland and will travel with the boat when it makes the trip. Visitors will learn about the expedition, solar energy and have the honor of going on tours of the boat.
Equally as impressive as the project’s ambitious goals is the list of adventurers supporting it. Among them is Jean Verne, great-grandson of author Jules Verne, a noted inspiration for the entire project. Joining him are several veterans of circumnavigation. Jean-Luc Van Den Heede is the record-holder for solo nonstop westward circumnavigation by sailboat. Jason Lewis spent 13 years completing the first human-powered circumnavigation. Lewis crossed the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans on a high-tech pedal boat, rollerbladed across North America and cycled or walked across India and the Himalayas. Kenichi Horie of Japan first traveled the globe in 1962 in a 19-foot sailboat. And those are just a few.
On the green-tech side of things, PlanetSolar announced this fall that California-based SunPower Corporation would be building the solar panels for the boat, whose deck will be completely covered in panels. In addition to SunPower, the other primary partners of PlanetSolar are Switzerland’s Candino watch company and Rivendell Holding, an investment firm.
There will be two full-time residents during the voyage, although the boat can hold up to 50 people, space that will be used for tours and demonstration runs when in port.