In ancient times, the only way to reliably navigate large stretches of ocean was by harnessing the power of wind. Even as advances in technology allowed for motors and fossil fuels to speed up aquatic travel, sailboats were the only vessels that could travel indefinitely without ever running out of juice.
Now, thousands of years after harnessing wind energy, we’re finally able to trump the sailboat in sustainability of speed. The world’s largest solar powered boat, the Turanor PlanetSolar, is nearing the end of its maiden, record-breaking voyage. This Swiss-made vessel was built to promote green energy by circumnavigating the planet using sunlight as its only source of energy. The Turanor has been stopping in major cities along its route, from Hong Kong to Miami, using travel to promote its positive message.
Launched on September 27th in 2010 from Morocco, the vessel (at the time of writing this article) has been on the sea for an astonishing 511 days. A Twitteresque feed of short updates on the Turanor’s main website keeps track of the vessel’s travels, catalogs the crew’s thoughts, and displays pictures from the trip.
The Turanor went southwest across the Atlantic to travel through the Panama Canal. From there, it made the daunting journey across the Pacific to the eastern shore of Australia, went northwest through the Philippines, and then along the Arabian Sea to its current port at Abu Dhabi.
The vessel’s long journey is made possible by the hundreds of solar panels spaced across the deck of the ship, which allow the Turanor to hit a top speed of 14 knots (approximately 16 mph), but realistically its cruising speed is a mere 7 knots (8 mph). With the circumference of the earth close to 25,000 miles, that makes for a rather slow journey.
Still, the Turanor has managed to power on entirely through sun energy for all 511 days of its journey, so it has been slowly but surely accomplishing its mission.
While the intended message of the Turanor is certainly admirable, the fact that this solar powered ship is nearing the end of its world-spanning journey comes with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s impressive that solar power has advanced to a point that we can use it to accomplish something so record-breaking. On the other hand, the crawling pace of the Turanor reminds many of just how limited solar power is. As nice as it would be to turn to solar power to answer the energy concerns of aquatic vessels and structures, it just might not be enough.