For those who worry that fighting climate change means sacrificing comfort, the luxurious Turanor might be a revelation. The world’s biggest solar-powered vessel, run by Planet Solar from Switzerland, returned to the Mediterranean in May, after completing the first-ever round-the-world fueled solely by solar energy.
Captain Eric Dumont, standing on the deck of the ship on top of the panels explains,
“Its time to realize it is a lot of pollution everywhere, and this boat is a messenger and maybe an alarm to say stop pollution on this planet.”
The name Turanor comes from JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings saga, and means “the power of the sun”. And that power is precisely what the 32 meter ship is intended to showcase. This summer, it’s traveling to cities in the Mediterranean like Valletta, Malta. Each stop attracts a crowd of reporters and government ministers eager to see how it works. Captain Dumont, sitting up in the futuristic ship’s cockpit explains the local reaction: “They are looking at us like a hero from the new modern times, just because we decided to respect and use this solar energy”
The ship’s systems are simple at first glance. Sunshine falls on 537 square meters of solar panels, made by the company Sunpower. They’re the world’s most efficient — converting about 18% of the energy into electricity, which charges two huge 6 ton lithium ion batteries in each of the hulls. When captain Eric Dumont pushes the throttle forward, power is transferred to the two electric motors, which turn special low-speed propellers. The 91-ton boat can travel for three days on the batteries without getting any charge from the sun, but there is a surprising problem with the power system.
“It’s not complicated to understand,” He says with a smile, “we have too much sun. Because for sure these batteries are full all the time, so we have to cut, we have to stop the charge, you know, sometimes. So the problem is too much energy.”
The ship is a traveling experiment. Technicians in Switzerland monitor the boat via satellite around the clock. Data from its round-the-world trip will be used to improve the technology, increasing its speed, for example. Right now it travels at a stately four knots.
It might not be fast, but it’s very quiet. The Turanor is practically silent as it moves past ancient walls, around the breakwater and out to sea. Leaving Valletta harbor through the gates of the city built by the knights of St John, the ship’s captain says it’s easy to forget you’re traveling on a state of the art machine.
Looking out onto the ocean, Captain Dumont waxes philosophical, “It is my dream to be on the sea. I have been on the sea since I was two years old. It’s nice to be silent on the sea, we can see dolphins, we can see whales, very close, every day. So this boat is very perfect to be in harmony, you can think you can dream. For me, it is the best job in the world”.