Clean energy sets sail: COP28 UAE spotlights green movement on waterways

Solar-powered vessels equipped with solar skin are making strides in the region, according to experts in the maritime industry

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Nandini Sircar

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Nicolas Lapp (R), CTO and Co-founder of Sunreef Yacht speaking during a session at COP28. Photo: Nandini Sircar
Nicolas Lapp (R), CTO and Co-founder of Sunreef Yacht speaking during a session at COP28. Photo: Nandini Sircar

Published: Tue 5 Dec 2023, 6:07 PM

Clean energy vehicle movement is not only gaining traction on roads but is also expanding to waterways at COP28 UAE. Solar-powered vessels equipped with solar skin are making strides in the region, according to experts in the maritime industry.

For generations, waters have been integral to Dubai's inhabitants' lives. Whether for relaxation, discovery, travel, or fishing, the UAE's citizens and expats have always connected with the sea.

Nicolas Lapp, CTO and Co-founder of Sunreef Yacht, explains how their Eco range has innovative technology that integrates solar panels into the vessel's surface, allowing it to harness solar energy and convert it into electricity to power onboard systems or propulsion.

He said, "As boat builders, this sense of responsibility should be a fundamental element of boat design, building, and use. Companies should do whatever they can to come up with more sustainable craft. It's about adding sustainable solutions on board. It's not about reinventing the wheel. But the one time when we actually got close to reinventing the wheel was with our solar power system. This is unique. That's a technology that is not implemented on any other yacht. These are composite integrated solar panels, so we like to call it 'solar skin' today."

The Polish shipbuilder emphasised that integrating solar skin technology reduces reliance on traditional fuel sources, lowers operational costs, and contributes to a cleaner and more sustainable mode of transportation on waterways.

"We're able to fit the entire boat with solar panels. These solar panels are all over the hulls, superstructure and every surface possible. Hence, we can maximise solar energy. We feel this is a potential that hasn't been used enough in the yachting industry. Most leisure yachts navigate in sunny areas, and we really want to harness that power. To exploit that potential, one needs to maximise solar power surface."

Challenges

Talking about the challenges, Lapp said his company first took some solar panels from the market, which were flat. Unable to fit this into their vessel's design, they decided to make the solar panel adaptable to the boat's shape.

"I knew of some car manufacturers working on that. It has taken us one year to develop the system, and we have achieved good results because our panels are less than one millimetre thick. So, it's easy to integrate them into the boat's structure, and the weight is less than 1.8kg per square metre. So, we were able to integrate this entirely on the boat. We've already launched five to six such boats," he added.

Change in cruising philosophy

These boats are powered entirely by clean energy, with solar panels and batteries feeding electric motors.

Storing energy holds equal significance to generating it. They use specially designed batteries to optimise the Eco boats' efficiency.

"There is also a great weight advantage to the solar panels if they're not based on glass and they are very thin, then that means it's very light. So that adds to the efficiency. I think it also changes the way we look at cruising. More and more customers realise that they cruise electric for a couple of hours and then stop to recharge with solar. Essentially, cruise a little, then stop to recharge, and then cruise again, and then stop to recharge. I think there's a change in the philosophy of cruising, and increasingly, people realise that generators are more of a backup than a necessity."

Sunreef Yachts' new shipyard

Meanwhile, construction has begun on Sunreef Yachts' new shipyard in Ras Al Khaimah, UAE. The company has partnered with the marine free zone and harbour, RAK Maritime City, on the project.

The new facility is part of Sunreef's global expansion strategy to strengthen the company's presence in the Middle East markets.

Their introduction to different regions indicates a growing interest in eco-friendly and renewable energy solutions within the maritime industry.

This collaboration with the UAE is particularly significant as the UAE boasts the most inexpensive solar power globally and hosts three of the most extensive solar complexes worldwide.

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