Zero-emission ship world’s 1st in Arctic circle

The Energy Observer research ship, powered by nothing but the wind, the sun and hydrogen extracted from the seawater it travels through, is the first all-renewable energy  zero-emission ship to reach the Arctic and now sits at latitude 78°N off the island of Spitsbergen, Norway.

map of arctic showing Spitzbergen where the Energy Observer renewable energy ship is moored
While there are  battery electric/hybrid ferries and cruise ships taking visitors to fjords above the arctic circle, the Energy Observer is the first vessel to get there powered 100% by renewables.

The French research boat set out from Saint-Malo in 2017 on a series of voyages to perfect its wind/sun/hydrogen technology in a 6 year round-the-world odyssey that will see the ship visit 101 ports in 50 countries. As of today (August 21, 2019) Energy Observer has travelled 28,400km / 17,650mi and visited 24 European countries and St. Petersburg Russia, where it started the arctic circle leg.

Plugboats has written about Energy Observer a few times, detailing its revolutionary windsail system, custom solar panels and the stopovers in Amsterdam and  Antwerp.

Mission: Prove we have the renewables technology

a diagram showing how the Energy Observer wingsails extend and retractAt each stopover the boat and crew take part in educational seminars, conferences and exhibitions where the public is often invited on board to see this incredible ship up close. (Not in Spitzbergen, for obvious reasons!)

As a broader part of that education mission a 90 minute documentary is being shot using evidence of the ship’s success using totally renewable energy to prove that the necessary knowledge and technologies to live in harmony with nature is available and accessible now.

The 5,700km / 3,550mi trip from St. Petersburg to Spitzbergen is particularly impressive in that way. The electricity used to separate the oxygen and hydrogen for the fuel cells is generated by the windsails, solar panels and a regenerative turbine in the water. The EO site says that the trip was taken “under unfavorable weather conditions” and as you can imagine, the Arctic sunlight is never powerful, even though the daylight hours are long during the summer.

Important and highly symbolic success

The crew of the Energy Observer renewable energy ship stand on the ship in the arctic celebrating and cheering

Getting into the arctic circle and to Spitzbergen has always been important to the EO’s crew of sailors, oceanographers and documentarians.

From the Energy Observer site:

Since the beginning of the adventure, Energy Observer’s team had dreamed of taking up this challenge: to rally the Arctic in total energy autonomy, without CO2 emissions, fine particles or noise pollution that could disturb the ecosystems, in complete harmony with nature.

Jérôme Delafosse, expedition leader and filmmaker, said “We chose Spitsbergen because it is the ‘Ground Zero’, the epicenter of climate change. This archipelago alone crystallizes the major issues of climate emergency and of human impact on the environment. If we succeed up there thanks to renewable energies in extreme environments, then we will prove that humanity can be reconciled with nature. It is one of the major challenge in the coming decades.”

You can follow the progress of the Energy Observer on its website, which also includes a live tracking of the ship’s location.

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