Renewable energy generation onboard Foresight Natural Energy, Conrad Colman’s Vendee Globe yacht
Foresight has sponsored Conrad Colman’s 2016 Vendee Globe entry, Foresight Natural Energy. The boat is being powered exclusively from natural sources, the energy being produced by solar panels integrated to the mainsail boosting a hydrogenerator which generates power from the boats movement through the water all stored in state of the art Lithium Ion Batteries. There’s alignment between Conrad’s on board technology and Foresight’s renewable energy capabilities, particularly solar, where with more than 700MW of generating capacity we are the second largest solar asset manager in Europe, and in waste to energy, where our 29 projects divert 1.5m tonnes per annum of waste from landfill and will generate 130MW of clean electricity.
An update from Conrad, currently near the coast of Brazil
Just like people on land, Vendee Globe sailors depend totally on reliable sources of energy only we use it to run the autopilot (automatic steering) instruments, satellite communication systems and the navigation computer I am typing on. We depend on energy for our very lives, as we make fresh drinking water from the surrounding sea water using a high pressure desalinator pump and wouldn’t be able to survive long in the case of a blackout.
Until recently all the yachts in the Vendee Globe set out with one source of energy on-board, the boat’s diesel propulsion engine that would spin in neutral during the race to drive an alternator to charge the batteries. In 2012 some skippers installed small propellers on the back of the boat that can drop down and spin in the water to produce electricity. These hydro-generators are now common in the fleet but are still considered backups to the primary engine and 2-300 litres of diesel fuel. In many ways this approach parallels the current energy grid with one massive dirty source of energy in the middle, little storage capacity and high risk in the case of a problem.
In comparison, my electrical system operates on an entirely different philosophy. In removing the diesel engine in my bid to circumnavigate the globe without burning fossil fuels I have spread out the risk in my energy portfolio and maximized my chances of finishing the race. I have 16 KWh of lithium ion batteries, one big hydro-generator attached to the main propeller, 700 Watts of flexible solar panels in the main sail, 400 Watts of solar panels on the cabin, a back up hydro-generator that I can install in case of need and a small diesel generator that is still required by the class rules. All of this without a weight penalty, crucial on a racing boat, as I have dispensed with the heavy cast iron engine and the capacious diesel tanks that fed it.
Production is only one side of the story however as I have done all I can to reduce consumption on board. All lighting is in LEDs and even then sparingly used and only installed in one part of the boat. I am trialing a prototype motor on the autopilot that is more efficient and I turn everything off (sat comms, computer screen etc) the second I’m no longer using it. This means that my base consumption is 6 amp hours although this can triple if the pilot has to work hard in heavy conditions or I am making fresh water and sending videos via the communications system. With my significant battery bank I have enough power to run the boat for over a week if I have a technical problem, time I can use to jury rig a solution to keep me going. Yes, I am just as comfortable soldering wires and operating the multimeter as I am pulling ropes and hanging onto the tiller!
An excellent podcast that I enjoy called “Outside/In” from the New Hampshire Public Radio in their Living Fossils episode how the future of our electrical grid, the meters in our home and the production of energy will come to resemble the systems I have on my boat. With renewable energy sources increasingly being plumbed into an electrical grid that was designed for push button power from massive coal fired power plants, the evolving smart grid will finally start to resemble the 21st century where power and information flows both ways between consumer and producer.