A solar powered catamaran? Really?

A design disaster of a boat.

Scientific American has reported on a solar powered catamaran that has circumnavigated the globe.  This thing is, in my humble opinion, a ridiculous and utterly useless design.

Some stats about the boat and it’s trip:

  • 584 days to follow an equatorial route around the Earth.
  • 537 m2 (5,700 ft2) of solar cells.
  • $24 million to build.
  • Crew of 6 (reduced to 4 halfway through the voyage).

But then, there’s a comment by one Rock LeBateau (as if that’s his real name), that reads:

So let me get this right, It takes 38,000 solar cells, 6 men, nearly 2 years and 24 million bucks to get a boat round the world. But in 2005 it took 71 days 14 hours 18 minutes and 33 seconds for a tiny little Englishwoman Ellen MacArthur to sail her boat round the world. Her boat was solar powered too using wind as the energy transfer mechanism. Oh, and she went the hard way round – Cape of Good Hope, Roaring Forties, South of Australia, Cape Horn and back.

All of a sudden, the massive pile of solar tech on that catamaran doesn’t seem quite so impressive.  In fact, I think it’s downright stupid.  I mean, check out the pic of the lavish, ultra-computerized cockpit in the SciAm article!

Here we have another case of designer’s ego: so obsessed does one get with an idea that one utterly loses all perspective on the matter.  Clearly, MacArthur’s voyage was far more sustainable/green/whatever than that of the solar powered monstrosity.  It was also both more efficient and effective a solution.  Any sensible designer would have been able to step back from the situation and say: My god! This is abomination!

Indeed, the kind of thinking that led the makers of the Tûranor PlanetSolar is exactly the kind of thinking that’s causing climate change, urban decay, and mass consumerism.  As proof of concept, all that this boat proves is that some concepts are detestable.

Here’s a better idea.  Wind happens because of the sun.  Wind is solar power, ready to use.  Let’s develop some solar cell fabric that can be used as sail cloth.  Heck, given how sails can vibrate, let’s make them piezoelectric too.  Let’s use that power to run the boat’s systems – which would be little more than whatever Ellen MacArthur had on her little boat.  Now we’ve got a real solar-powered boat that’s both more effective and more efficient than the ham-fisted design of the Tûranor PlanetSolar.

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