In theory, Miami is a perfect pit stop for any solar-powered vehicle -- hell, it's the sunniest city in the Sunshine State. But in practice, this town's been overcast and soggy for weeks now.
Luckily, the crew of the MS Tûranor PlanetSolar came with their batteries charged.
The ship -- the world's largest solar-powered vessel to sail around the world -- sailed into Sunset Harbour Yacht Club yesterday on a 16-city tour to research climate change. And Cultist had the chance to check out the 102-foot catamaran firsthand.
The PlanetSolar boasts 29,124 photovoltaic cells that capture the sun's energy and use it to fuel almost ten tons of lithium-ion batteries. With that amount of weight, the PlanetSolar isn't exactly built for speed--it travels at an average of 5 knots, or little more than 5.5 mph. (Still, it broke a Guinness World Record for "completing the fastest transatlantic crossing with a solar boat, solely operated without any fuel or CO2 emissions.")
And its lowered speed is a small price to pay for sustainability. When the PlanetSolar circumnavigated the globe between September 2010 and May 2012, it didn't use a single drop of fuel, and emitted zero pollutants.
Once the PlanetSolar departs Miami on June 6, it will begin its scientific mission, mostly measuring things like deep ocean currents. Professor Martin Beniston, the head of the Institute of Environmental Sciences at the University of Geneva, clued us in on why this particular vessel was perfect for environmental research: Because the engine is electric, it makes absolutely no sound and produces no pollution, which makes it easier to produce accurate measurements of water quality and lifeforms at the water's surface.
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The most common question asked by attendees at yesterday's private showing was, "What happens on cloudy days? How long can it run without sun?" (Not surprising, given Miami's recent weather.) The answer: If the batteries are charged at 100%, the boat can run on them for three days. We learned they have a couple of backup generators, just in case, but the crew hasn't ever needed them.
Hopefully, the clouds here in South Florida will part for them just in time for them to set sail up the Eastern seaboard this weekend.
You can find out more information about the boat at planetsolar.org, where you can track the boat's location, find out more about the science-y stuff it's doing, or even contribute to the cause and buy a branded mug at their eShop.