Portuguese project by an Algarve company presents in Foz do Arelho and in Vila Nova de Cerveira a silent boat that does not pollute the water and leaves almost no wake.

A solar boat does not need fuel, and you don’t have to change the oil, the filters or the spark plugs. It also does not pollute the waters and is so silent that one must strain the ear to hear the light humming provoked by its two electric motors.

This was the sensation felt yesterday by the invited guests who took a trip in the Óbidos Lagoon in one of the boats made by Sun Concept boats, the first Portuguese company to produce solar boats and one of the first at the world level that has already passed the prototype level and and has models in its portfolio for sale.

The SunSailer has three versions for six, eight or ten passengers and works with two six horsepower electrical engines. These are supplies by four batteries that receive solar energy from six photovoltaic panels implanted on the vessel itself. It has a cruising speed of 5 knots (and maximum of 6.50 knots) and a hull with 40 centimetres that was especially designed (and patented) to not leave a wake (backwash). The objective is to not agitate the lagoons and other humid areas where respect for nature is fundamental.

The target market for these operators are the tourism operators who navigate in sensitive areas from the environmental standpoint, but Nuno Oliveira, of SunSailer, says these vessels can also be recreational boats for families or fishermen, shellfish gatherers and nurserymen.

Prices range from 24,600 to 32,400 euros, amounts that, he says, are in line with identical vessels that use fuel. “Our difficulty has been explaining the obvious: These boats do not spend money to navigate and maintenance itself is 80% less expensive than a conventional vessel”. Nuno Oliveira also noted how easy it is to reach the boat and put the key in the ignition without worrying about fuel.

The autonomy of the SunSailers may be infinite in the sun, but at night it can still navigate from six to nine hours at a speed of 5 knots. And even in fog, the solar rays supply the photovoltaic panels.

This project was born of a “bar conversation that became a boat conversation”, says the company’s Sales Director. A biologist, an accountant and a ship builder had the idea to build a solar boat and obtained the support of two entrepreneurs. Thus the Sun Concept company was born in Olhão in May 2015. The first prototype was launched in the water in March 2016. Since then, only three boats have been sold, but Nuno Oliveira says that in the next three months contracts should be signed for at least five more.

“Right now we’re in limbo, advertising, but we are certain there will be an explosion of orders”, he says. The company has 10 workers, but expects to create even more jobs. Being self-sustaining is one of its premises and therefore they intend to build an ecological shipyard at ria Formosa in some old warehouses that should be refurbished and the people who buy their boats can leave them parked. And since, even parked, they continue to produce electrical energy, the idea is to use it for the shipyards, which will pay the owners of the vessels for the electricity it consumed.

Besides the Portuguese market, which is rich in lagoon areas, the company intends, naturally, to go international. “It is possible to descend France between the canals to the Mediterranean. In Germany and the Netherlands there are canals all over. And Switzerland with all its lakes and the laws restricting polluting vessels, is also an incredible market ”, says the director of the company optimistically.

There are plenty of projects for the solar boats, including catamarans and cruise ships to, for instance, navigate in the Douro, up to the “craziest project of all, which is a car-boat-submarine totally moved by solar energy with which one can travel around the world”.

Nuno Oliveira says that in the future the photovoltaic panels could practically cover the entire surface of a vessel and that nothing is impossible to manufacture the most diverse types of silent ships and that “navigate at the speed of light [from the sun]”. And he concluded: “we have plenty of ideas and they can all be carried out, but the problem is that is easier to build a half million euro boat than one for 30 thousand euros and right now these are our target market”.

by Carlos Cipriano

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