A road trip to view the autumn leaves is a kind of family tradition with us. The splendor of red, yellow and golden leaves is an autumn treat we never miss. This year, while driving through familiar Virginia country, we came to a cornfield that had changed dramatically since last year. Instead of the brown stalks of drying corn we say an array of thousands of solar panels. Virginia has gone solar so it must mean that solar power really works and is a practical source of power. They are betting millions that it will work and work well to supplement tradional energy sources. That vast shimmering array of solar panels got me to wondering what’s happening with solar power in boat. A few years ago, I reported on a solar power vessel called the MS Turanor PlanetSolar built in Kiel, Germany by Knierim Yactbau. It is a 100 foot solar powered motor yacht. This look at solar powered boats will investigate the solar powered sailing boat named Helios. But first let’s do a quick review of how the energy of the sun is converted to electrical power in a solar panel. Essentially, a solar panel is made up of photovoltaic cells. The sun is a natural nuclear reactor. It releases tiny packets of energy called photons, which travel the 93 million miles from the sun to Earth in about 8.5 minutes. Every hour, enough photons impact our planet to generate enough solar energy to theoretically provide worldwide energy needs for an entire year. When photons hit a solar cell, they knock electrons loose from their atoms. If conductors are attached to the positive and negative sides of a cell, it forms an electrical circuit. When electrons flow through such a circuit, they generate electricity. Multiple cells make up a solar panel, and multiple panels (modules) can be wired together to form a solar array. The more panels you can deploy, the more energy you can expect to generate. Sailboat sailors are by their nature prone to renewable power sources, so it is not surprising that one day someone would design an incredible solar power sailing yacht. The Helios is the innovative brainchild of two young designers, Marco Ferrari and Alberto Franchi. The concept yacht Helios, is a 180 foot Panamax ketch-rigged sailing yacht capable of sailing anywhere in the world while providing luxury accommodations for 10 guest and a crew of 8. Helios is a diesel-electric sailing yacht featuring a lifting keel. Her reduced draught of 13 feet, thanks to the lifting keel, allow her to go in shallow waters or protected areas using only electric propulsion expanding its range for expedition. When becalmed, the yacht can go by only using electric propulsion. The yacht in appearance is similar to many contemporary luxury yachts, that is until you hoist the sails. The spinnaker is made of durable and light weight nylon and the mizzen staysail is made of Dacron. The hoisted sails reveal the big difference. The 22,000 plus square foot sail area is covered with 2500 flexible silicon solar cells. The cells, when the sun is up, generate 355 kilowatts of power to charge the batteries. While it is a sailing vessel, electrical power is needed for household items and auxiliary propulsion. With her diesel-electric power plant, Helios is capable of moving powered by either diesel or electric. The standard super luxury items in the accommodation for 10 guests. The owner gets to enjoy his own private beach club with a retractable swim platform. A panel in the wall of the owners suite actually tilts out of the hull to provide this very unusual feature for the pleasure of the owner. The guests may all enjoy a infinity pool located the flybridge. The pool is convertible in that when it is not being used, as it would when the yacht is underway, the water is pumped out and it becomes a sunbathing deck. At the stern, the yacht is built to provide a bathing platform with what the builders call a tender garage located at the transom. Two tenders, one 18 foot stored in a tender garage on the main deck. It also houses two canoes and two jets skis. The other 23-foot tender is stored in at the stern in a tender garage. Along with the tenders all the toys one could enjoy at anchor in some far-off tropical lagoon. The is an opening on the port side which allows guest to easily board the tenders for a quick trip to shore to enjoy the local bistros and shopping. The luxurious main saloon can be quickly converted to a theater. It is separate from the dining room. On the lower deck there are four guest cabins, crew cabins and the beautifully appointed owner’s suite. When the sun sets there are lights below the water line that light up the full 360 digress around the boat. For their innovative design the talented young Italian designers Marco Ferrari and Alberto Franchi, were awarded the Young Designers Award for 2015 by Boat International Media. Yet another concept for solar powering boat, this one directed at commercial ship. It is called EnergySails. It utilizes both solar energy and wind for propulsion. Wind and solar energy are utilized simultaneously. Imagine the amount of fossil fuel that could be saved if a freighter or tanker were able to utilize wind and solar power. Next year these new concept solar energy sails will be put to the test. Called EnergySails, the technology should enable ships to use both solar and wind energy at the same time. The sails were developed by Japanese renewable energy systems company Eco Marine Power (EMP) as part of a larger project known as Aquarius Marine Renewable Energy. EMP is working on alongside other strategic partners and Japanese ship owner Hisafuku Kisen K.K to equip bulk carrier ships with the technology that, according to EMP is an advanced integrated system of rigid sails, marine-grade solar panels, energy storage modules, and marine computers.” According to EMP This new technology will enable ships to tap into renewable energy by harnessing the power provided by the wind and sun. Not just for propulsion, the EnergySails themselves will also help ships collect and store energy even while docked. The sails are made of carbon fiber or steel. Normally upright, the sails can be stored during rough weather conditions. At this time EMP is conducting feasibility tests on multiple ships in Hisafuku Kisen’s fleet. The goal is to estimate how much propulsion an EnergySail system could provide to the ships while also accounting for how much solar power the on-board panels would receive on each individual ship’s route. When the testing is completed, one ship from the fleet will be chosen for a 12 to 18-month trial. That ship will be fitted with an array of EnergySails, solar panels on deck, and the hardware necessary to monitor and control every part of the system. It could very well be that in the not too distant future, when you’re out boating in New York Harbor or another busy port, you will spot some unusual looking sailboats or bulk carriers. When you consider just how much energy the sun showers down on the earth each day, it makes great sense. And, best of all, it’s free.