Solbian becomes official solar panel supplier for Energy Observer

The green energy powered research vessel Energy Observer and marine solar panel innovator Solbian announced on May 14 that Solbian has been recognized as the official supplier of solar panels for the boat’s fossil-fuel-free circumnavigation of the globe.

The announcement was made as EO leaves Hamburg on her way to Copenhagen, which will be the 18th country she visits. She has already sailed for more than 11,000 nautical miles around the Mediterranean and is now going up the coast of Northern Europe to the Arctic Circle and beyond.

1st hydrogen-powered vessel to circle the globe

Energy Observer is the first hydrogen-powered vessel to circle the globe, but hydrogen-powered tells only part of the story. The critical and revolutionary aspect of the journey is that all of the hydrogen will be created using solar, wind and the kinetic energy of the ship’s movement. Electricity is used to separate hydrogen from the oxygen in the seawater the boat travels through, and all of that electricity comes from renewable sources.

The decks of the 30 metre / 100 ft catamaran are covered with 130 square metres (1,400 square feet) of solar panels. After the first two legs of the EO odyssey – first around France and then around the whole Mediterranean – the needs were assessed and during a stopover in December 2018 an extra 27sqm (290 sq ft) of Solbian panels were installed.

Lightweight, flexible, strong and 24% efficiency

A man applies flexible solar panels to the deck of the Energy Observer

The panels follow the ship’s curvatures and take advantage of Solbian’s patented encapsulation method which combines flexibility, strength, light weight and generating efficiency. The 4kg weight for a 300W solar panel is about a fifth the weight of standard 300W panels and the silicon-based mono-crystalline modules from Solbian’s SP series can convert a record setting 24% of the sun’s light energy into electricity.

Hugo Devedeux, Systems engineer at Energy Observer, said “Solbian solar panels are essential to this project, they are light, flexible and rugged allowing us to harvest energy from nature in every weather condition.”

The partnership with Energy Observer is a living example of Solbian’s motto: Freedom powered by the Sun. As noted by the Italian company’s CEO Luca Bonci: “What connects us to Energy Observer is a shared vision: a better future starts with greater respect for the environment”.

Energy Observer also has advanced wingsail technology

In addition to the Solbian solar panels, Energy Observer installed new rigid wingsails – Oceanwings – developed by naval architect Marc Van Peteghem and VPLP designs. (You can read more about them in our article from April 28 when Energy Observer moored in Amsterdam. This link »» will connect you to all Plugboats articles tagged ‘Energy Observer’)

A series of diagrams showing how the rigid wingsails work

The automated wingsails increase the sailing efficiency and speed of the boat, which is an important contributor to electricity generation coming from the hydrogenerators – underwater turbines that spin as the boat moves through the water.

Energy Observer is scheduled to visit 50 countries and stop in 101 ports during its entire journey. The goal is not only to prove the feasibility of its renewable energy systems, but also to raise public awareness about key aspects of the environmental transition, in particular: renewable energies, biodiversity, mobility, and circular economy.

Energy Observer is in Copenhagen until May 18. You can read more about this pioneering expedition and technology on the Energy Observer website. The video below is from 2018 and gives a good overview of her voyage and mission.


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