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Alternative Energy in the Sailing World

Category : American Sailing Association, Sailboats

Guest post from Sailors for the Sea.
By:Hilary Wiech, Communications Manager and Annie Brett, Program Director


Renewable energy is a hot and sometimes controversial topic on land, but within the sailing world wind generators can sometimes be seen as old news.

aoki yacht asa solar panelsIt may seem silly to talk about renewable energy in the sailing world – aren’t sailboats powered by the wind after all? But look a little more closely, and for each sailboat on the water, there are a slew of energy consuming generators, outboards and batteries making sure we can get from point A to B. With climate change an increasingly pressing concern for the oceans and the environment, reducing our use of fossil fuels is critical. That being said, some of the best arguments for alternative energy sources are purely practical.

The cruising community, for instance, has long embraced renewable energy as a way to reduce costs and help make long passages possible on small amounts of diesel fuel. Solar panels and wind generators are almost ubiquitous on live-aboards, allowing cruisers to maintain battery banks while far away from traditional energy sources. Pictured at left is ASA instructor Yoh Aoki’s Zen 24 yacht, which makes us of a variety of renewable power sources.

Here at Sailors for the Sea we have noticed a big increase in the use of renewable energy with racing sailors as well. More efficient and cost-effective technologies mean that many of the same benefits the cruising community has long understood are now workable for racers. Whether switching a race committee boat to biodiesel or sailing around the world without a drop of diesel, race organizers are looking towards alternative energy sources. The America’s Cup, The Atlantic Cup, and the Vendee Globe are three regattas that are each taking a different approach to reducing their environmental footprint with the use of alternative energy.

America’s Cup – Alternative Energy supporting a large regatta venue

Race organizers at the America’s Cup have taken a strong stance on sustainability with a commitment to running every event in accordance to our Clean Regattas certification criteria and helping us create a stringent Platinum Level certification. The on-shore footprint of the America’s Cup is very large, with multiple venues scattered throughout the city of San Francisco and an anticipated hundreds of thousands of visitors during the three months of racing. Race organizers have committed to holding a carbon neutral event, and to achieve this they will utilize renewable energy in different ways:

  • Solar Panels: Past America’s Cup World Series events have seen organizers turn to solar power for some of their energy needs. Security lights powered by solar panels will reduce electrical use for a light that needs to be very bright and on 12 hours a day. Solar panels will cover the top of the sound stage and will generate enough power to boom the announcer’s voices over the large crowds.
  • Biodiesel: When The America’s Cup is unable to use shore power, and the use of generators are necessary using biodiesel will help reduce their fossil fuel usage and emissions.

Atlantic Cup – Renewable technologies for short distance and inshore racing

The Atlantic Cup, a regatta currently being run for its third year, has always received Gold level Clean Regattas certification. Race organizers require that every team use a form of alternative energy and through their sponsors assist teams with making the switch.

  • Hydro-generators: Many boats in the Class 40 circuit use hydro-generators to charge their batteries. Much like an upside-down wind generator, they have become popular in recent years as their increasing efficiency and reduced drag means they barely affect a boat’s speed. (Watch video below)
  • Solar Panels: Many boats are equipped with solar panels to charge their batteries.
    Bio-diesel: When the engines must be run (hopefully only to and from dock) race organizers supply biodiesel for each boat.

Want to see more about renewable energy in the Atlantic Cup? Click here to view on Youtube.

Vendee Globe – Around the world with no fossil fuel
acciona vendee globe
The Vendee Globe is a grueling solo round the world race from west to east via the three major capes -Good Hope, Leeuwin, and the Horn. In years past, about half the fleet does not make it across the finish line. For many years, racers have relied on some form of renewable energy to make it all the way around the world, typically a combination of solar panels and diesel fuel used to keep their batteries charged. However, this year one sailor set out with the goal of completing the race without using a single drop of diesel. Javier Sanso onTeam ACCIONA created a 100 percent ecopowered boat built to compete with the best in class.

  • A combination of solar panels, wind generators, and hydro generators were used onboard to charge batteries.
  • An electrical engine, a first in the history of the race, was used in place of a standard diesel engine. Team ACCIONA has to ask for the race rules to be changed to allow for the electrical engine, opening possibilities for the future.

If Sanso had completed the race, he would have been the first to do so without using fossil fuels. Unfortunately his keel broke and the boat flipped with approximately ¼ of the race left. For more information on Javier Sanso’s eco-friendly campaign watch the video below and read The New York Times article “In Race Around World, Boat Relies on the Power of Wind, Water and Sun.”

See more about renewable energy use in the Vendee Globe Race. Click here to view on Youtube.