The Solar Sal 24 electric boat can swim all day only in the sun. Sure, it has batteries on board that can be used to power the boat after dark or when the sun isn’t shining, but with careful attention to nature, 10 people can enjoy a day on the water and never burn a drop of fuel or stop. recharge. It can be the perfect way to be on the water and be a part of nature, rather than racing through the natural world and leaving a cloud of pollutants behind.
Solar Sal is the brainchild of David Borton, a physicist and retired professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute who has focused on solar energy since its early days. His Upstate New York-based Sustainable Energy Systems focuses on solar energy, and Borton has now made Solar Sal Boats a division of that business. For him, an important benefit of solar energy is the possibility to eliminate the use of fossil fuels, which contribute to climate change.
He tells Arthur Paine of Maine Boats that he was involved in the development of several aspects of electric boating including DC motors, batteries, battery charge controllers, hull shaping and solar panels. He says the Solar Sal 24 and other electric boats like it will allow sailors to enjoy uncomplicated, quiet and reliable performance with a clear conscience.
A key factor for Borton was optimizing the overall power efficiency through the DC channels between the panels and the motor. Once he combined all this with a specially designed fuselage, he applied for and was granted a patent.
Specifications and specifications
Solar Sal is 24′ long and 7′ 6″ wide with a draft of only 1′ 8″. Just as electric car designers focus on aerodynamic efficiency to improve range, designer Dave Gerr focused on creating a hull that would glide easily through water. In fact, it harkened back to the design of diesel-powered launches from the 1800s, whose needs for an efficient hull shape were similar.
The boat is powered by a 3 kW (4 hp) electric motor from Torqueedo, which also powered 4 lithium-ion batteries with a total capacity of 14 kWh. The key to the electric boat is the canopy on top, which provides space for 4 solar panels with a maximum capacity of 350 watts, each for a total output of 1,400 watts. That’s enough to cruise all day at around 5 knots without tapping into the energy stored in the batteries. The Solar Sal list price is $124,500.
Why would you want one?
Borton is fully committed to solar energy and a sustainable planet. He lives in a house powered by solar panels on the roof of his barn. “I didn’t just want to prove something,” he says. “I wanted people to have a practical invention that was environmentally friendly and could also be a commercial success.”
The first boats are built at Belmont Boatworks near Belfast, Maine. Owner Dan Miller has already completed two more hulls awaiting customers. He says they will be ideal on lakes, especially those with speed or power limitations. On many of these lakes, pontoon boats sail around 5 knots all day long, but are constantly burning gas. The Solar Sal 24 would fit right in, keeping the right pace to appreciate the scenery while not scaring the wildlife.
If fishing floats your boat [pun intended], you can do it all day at an ideal trolling speed of 4½ knots while consuming only photons, electrons and bait. “Silence on board would not hurt your prospects or annoy your neighbors,” says Arthur Paine. You also never have to worry about an explosion on board, which is always a possibility with a gasoline powered boat.
Paine adds that while it’s technically a motorboat, “it appeals to the sailor in me that the boat is quiet, environmentally friendly and uniquely suited to a lifestyle away from the cares of the coastal world because it doesn’t require hookups. into the electrical grid for recharging and is therefore independent of fossil fuels. You can go exploring in the wilderness for weeks without having to worry about approaching the next gas station or charging station.”
Although the solar panels charge less intensively on an overcast day, according to builder Dan Miller of Belmont Boatworks, the recharge rate is sufficient for a full day at five knots. “This is familiar territory for a sailor. says Paine. “Another similarity with sailboats is that most sailors I know are considered thrifty—a nice word for cheap. As fossil fuels become more and more expensive, the owner of Solar Sal gets a season ticket.”
Paine thinks such boats could be used as ferries in sun-drenched places like the Bahamas. “There are many short ferry lines in the Bahamas where speed is unnecessary and workers, townspeople and tourists go back and forth all day. Given enough sunlight, Solar Sal 24 could serve this route well. And you don’t even want to think about the price of gasoline [those places].” It is the first 100% solar powered ship to be approved by the US Coast Guard for carrying passengers.
A little history
Sustainable Energy Systems has previously built several disposable wooden boats of various sizes. The Solar Sal 24, a laminate production boat, is the next step. In addition to the prototype, two more hulls were built and will be fitted out at Belmont Boatworks according to the customer’s requirements. Borton is experimenting with a fifth model, a 16-footer that actually flies with a modest 10 kW (13.5 hp) engine. Its largest is a 44-foot boat that has been licensed by the Coast Guard to take paying passengers on Hudson River cruises from its home port in Kingston, New York. Another of his ships, a 40-footer, undertook a cargo voyage the length of the Erie Canal.
That’s the key part of the story. A popular folk song in the days when the Erie Canal was a thriving trade channel contained these lyrics: “I have a mule and his name is Sal. Fifteen miles down the Erie Canal. She is a good old worker and a good old friend.’
The 40-foot-long Solar Sal Two actually carried cargo on parts of the original canal, marking the first time a solar-powered ship had done the work originally assigned to mules. The name stuck. This video has some interesting historical photos to accompany the lyrics.
One of Borton’s concepts, a 27-footer built by Sam Devlin in Olympia, Wash., for Borton and his son Alex, made the long trip through Alaska’s Inside Passage to Ketchikan and Glacier Bay. Although bright sunlight is a rarity up there, Alex appreciated that as long as the sun was up, he didn’t have to worry about running out of gas.
People who own an electric car will be concerned with this next part. “It’s fun to watch the electric boat’s variables, essentially a mix of watt-hours of stored potential in the batteries balanced by kilowatts of top-up coming from the roof. All electric boats have a “fuel gauge” in the form of a battery level indicator. It is up to the driver to choose the appropriate combination of speed and range. A smart Solar Sal operator can trade speed for range. With enough patience, a solar-powered boat will always make it home,” says Borton.
In search of a sustainable world
Perhaps nothing illustrates the difference between a sustainable world and one that is depleting natural resources faster than they can be replaced than sailboats. When you’re completely dependent on the wind (or lack thereof) on the water, it creates a bond between you and nature that simply cannot be replicated in any internal combustion engine powered boat. You get there when you get there, and no amount of swearing or carefully crafted invective will advance your progress. A popular saying among sailors is “We can’t control the wind. All we can do is adjust our sails.”
There is an advantage that comes from shedding the constraints imposed on us by our fossil fuel-fueled environment and voluntarily submitting to the constraints of the natural world. It can give us a sense of peace and harmony and help us reconnect with nature in a way that is lacking in many of our daily lives. Solar Sal 24 fits this atmosphere beautifully.
Hat Tip to Ken Anderson of Marblehead, Massachusetts who first brought this story to my attention. Ken, Art Paine and I grew up cruising Narragansett Bay when “I Like Ike” buttons were popular. It’s interesting how our early experiences intersect and build on each other over time.
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