100% Renewable Life: One Man’s. Journey for a Solar World

Martin Vosseler

Crossing the Atlantic with 100% solar energy

Imagine – waking up in a narrow hull of a solar catamaran, in a cove of the Rhine River near the German/Dutch border, on a foggy October morning. The air is filled with bird voices. When I crawl on deck I see thousands of wild geese, taking off in groups for their flight south, flying in V-shape formation. Or imagine a clear night on the Atlantic. The dog star is so bright that its light is reflected like a golden ribbon on the dark velvet of the ocean. Suddenly a splashing sound – a dolphin’s back emerges. The animal is dancing around our boat. Where it passes fluorescent algae are lighting up – microgalaxy floating in the dark waters.

What a wonderful unique planet we are living on: the perfectly shaped ball is exactly the right distance from the sun so we don’t burn and don’t freeze. It is exactly the right size so the water of the sea, the rivers and the lakes doesn’t disperse into the universe. It has this awesome ‘skin’ of air – four to five miles of air with oxygen – that allows us to breathe and to live – a very thin layer, a distance that can be walked in less than two hours; and the sun, a powerful nuclear fusion reactor safe distance to Earth, sends us all the energy that we need.

During our Atlantic crossing on the solar catamaran, Sun21, we become aware of the multitude of miracles that make this planet Earth possible. We also realize how vulnerable this unique life system is. We witness sea pollution and the depletion of the maritime fauna; but we learn at the same time how well the combination of renewable energy and energy efficiency works!

What does it take to cross the Atlantic with the energy of a hairdryer or an iron? Six Swiss dreams that come together.

Mark Wuest, solar boat constructor for more than 20 years, dreams of crossing the Atlantic with such a catamaran. David Senn, marine biologist, dreams of making an Atlantic ‘Transsect’ – to examine a plankton sample every day during an Atlantic crossing. Beat von Scarpatetti, historian and

100% Renewable Life: One Man’s. Journey for a Solar World

Figure 17.1 The solar catamaran Sun21 in Miami, Florida

Source: Dylan Cross

founder of the ‘Swiss Club of Carfree People’, dreams of putting his feet on US ground without a drop of oil. Michel Thonney has crossed the Atlantic already several times on sailboats. He dreams of doing it again, applying his navigation skills to a pioneering adventure. Daniela Schlettwein, a Swiss medical doctor, uses her financial resources to support ecological projects. She dreams of making an unusual solar project possible, after decades of promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency. I prepare for my SunWalk 2008 – walking through the US for the promotion of 100 per cent renewable energy. I have the dream to cross the Atlantic in a sustainable way and, at the same time, to promote 100 per cent renewable energy with this adventure.

Sometimes things fall into place very quickly when dreams come together. In December 2005 we decide to go ahead with the project. On 16 October 2006 the then Swiss President, Mrs Micheline Calmy-Rey, christens the boat in Basel – and off it goes starting for its seven-month journey to New York City. Basel – Rotterdam – Seville – Canary Islands – Martinique – Miami – New York City, where we arrive on 8 May 2007. The actual crossing from the Canary Islands to Martinique takes 29 days.

Box 17.1 Sun21

Solar catamaran Sun21: 46 feet long, 22 feet on the beam. Draft: 3 feet. Weight: 12 tons. Two ‘LEMCO’ electro motors, 8 kW each, with an efficiency of 90 per cent. The solar energy is harvested by two 5kW modules (about 65m2) that are located on a roof installation. We have 0.8 tons of lead acid batteries in each hull, 48V DC. The propellers are made out of carbon. Maximum speed: about 9 knots (about 16.5km/hour). Constant speed: about 5 knots (about 9km/hour) 24 hours a day. There is cabin space for five people, a kitchen and a bathroom.

We can demonstrate with this journey that if we come down from our high energy waste level, if we combine it with high energy efficiency, renewable energy is sufficient for our energy needs. We have travelled from Europe to the US with an average of 1700W, the power that a hairdryer or an iron needs – a 12t boat, five adult men, five computers, all instruments, a refrigerator, ten cabin lights, four position lights, a motor for the anchor and a satellite phone, all travelled thanks to the 90 per cent efficiency of the two electro motors that propelled the boat. Travelling on this boat is very comfortable – no noise, almost no vibrations and no exhaust fumes; therefore the dolphins like to visit us and we can sleep on the boards that cover the motor.

Updated: December 18, 2015 — 4:47 pm