Monaco has always been known for itsannual Formula 1 Grand Prix, in which racers whip around the hairpin turns of the principality’s narrow streets, and its annual yacht show, in which some of the world’s largest and most luxurious boats dock in Port Hercule. This summer, Solar1Races, the Monaco Yacht Club, and Dutch design firm Vripack are combining the two to launch the first solar-powered-yacht Grand Prix at the Solar1 race, set to take place July 10 to 12 in Monaco.
The solar-powered race began as the Dong Energy Solar Challenge in Holland eight years ago, with two divisions: the hobby-level cruising class and a professional yachting class that was prohibitively expensive to most entrants. After competing for three years in the hobby class, the engineers at Vripack wanted to introduce a uniform racing division, where the boats would be more uniform but less expensive than the professional ones.
For the new division, the design team developed the V20 series—hydrofoiling boats that were designed for speed but aren’t overly expensive. The uniform vessels would race in a new, third division and test the skill of the racer rather than the boatbuilder. “The challenge would be in the techniques and in the drivers,” says Jeroen Droogsma, lead designer at Vripack.
Vripack has sold four such hydrofoiling boats since the announcement at the Monaco Yacht Show in September 2013, but time remains to sell more before the race.
Comparing the V20 to the megayachts and Navy vessels that Vripack also designs, Droogsma says simply, “There’s not that much boat.” While a yacht could take a year or more to build, the 19-foot V20 takes a mere month and a half because it lacks many of the complex onboard systems. A standard V20 comes with a carbon hull, solar cells, batteries, and electrical installation. Teams can adapt their boat by modifying the steering system, the propeller, and the foils.
Vripack first molds and cures the boat’s carbon shell before affixing as many solar panels as possible. The solar panels are the sole source of energy on the yacht; they can power the propellers through an electric engine, store solar energy in lithium-ion batteries, or do both at the same time.
As the race date approaches, the teams hope for sunny skies. “We can’t exactly predict how long the battery will stay charged if it isn’t sunny during the race. That completely depends on the speed; the faster you go the more energy it takes and the other way around,” explains Droogsma.
The V20 designers also knew what they don’t know—for insight on which electronics and solar panels to install, for example, they contacted an experienced Class A competitor from the Dutch races. “They are really experienced in this and helped get good equipment for a good price,” Droogsma explains. “We needed to get the right balance between price and weight.”
Yachts competing in the top Class A division often use MG electronics, which can propel a solar-powered boat to approximately 27 miles per hour (44 kilometers per hour), while a Vripack-designed boat will top out at 18 mph. Although the speed difference might sound substantial, the V20 also costs a mere third of the cost of professional vessels. The professional racing vessels can cost upwards of 130,000 euros while the Vripack-designed ones come in at a comparatively reasonable $75,000 (55,000 euros).
The lower cost of entry has attracted competitors from multiple backgrounds. The four teams that have purchased boats are two colleges, the Royal Dutch Marines, and a private customer.
Solar power is no longer just a hypothetical or concept design in the yachting world. Powerboat owners are increasingly searching for ways to offset the cost of fuel, and advances in solar technology are decreasing the price and increasing the efficiency. There are currently at least two manufacturers that specialize in solar-powered recreational boats: the Italian Arcadia Yachts and the Slovenian Greenline Hybrid Yachts. Both brands design their vessels to incorporate solar panels, which can be used to power everything from the engines to the generators. Yacht owners can also add after-market modifications such as flexible solar panels to their current vessels.
Unfortunately, solar power still suffers from a perception problem and is seen as the slower power option; the Solar1 race will focus on displaying the speed of light. The details of the races are still being finalized, but the racers and audience will take full advantage of the open water outside Monaco’s Port Hercule. For the V20 class competitors, there will be different series of drag races and an hour-long endurance race while spectators will have front-row seats aboard a pontoon floating in the harbor.
Interested competitors are still welcome to join the next big race as the Solar1 is still accepting boats competing in all classes under the sun.
source: Popular Mechanics