Solar panels and Ocean rowing races: our experience

Solar panels and Ocean rowing races: our experience


Over the years Solbian worked many times in the field of Ocean rowing races, collaborating with various teams to provide them with flexible solar panels for their rowboats.

Considering the nature of these vessels and the limited space available, alternative energy sources represent the only choice possible in such a context.

 2013: Coxless Crew 

The Coxless Crew on Doris

Our experience began in 2013 with a group of girls, the Coxless Crew, and their ambitious project: rowing the 8446 miles that separate America from Australia, in three legs. A journey officially started in April 2015 and successfully concluded 9 months later, breaking two world records.

This first collaboration allowed us to familiarise with some of the key issues in rowboats installations, such as double curvatures that need to be accurately assessed and the electrical system, which needs to be split into two parts, port side and starboard side. The latter is fundamental to properly manage the panels orientation and maximize the solar radiation, which, depending on the height of the sun, is more accentuated on one side than the other. 

The system installed on Doris, the rowboat, supplied energy to GPS, AIS, VHF, satellite phone and desalinator but also to the speakers when necessary.

 2015: Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge 

On the top: Matteo Perucchini. Down left: Greg Maud's rowboat. Down right: the Atlantic Buoys rowboat

In 2015 we found out about the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, one of the toughest rowing races in the world. Participants, either in team or alone, go from Antigua to San Sebastian de la Gomera, 3000 nautical miles, relying solely on their own strength, rowing day and night under a pressing physical and mental stress. Sleep deprivation, seasickness, 15 meter waves and total isolation are just a few of the many difficulties they encounter.

In that year our support went to the Italian Matteo Perucchini, the first to cross the finish line among the solo crews; we also supplied our panels to Greg Maud and the Atlantic Buoys.

 2017: Nuts over the Atlantic 

Nuts over the Atlantic

Backed by our previous experiences, in 2017 we decided to collaborate with another crew, Nuts Over the Atlantic, which, unlike its predecessors, required a much more complex and articulated project, with highly customized modules in terms of power and shapes.

Many participants ended up out of energy to power the on-board equipment, so the team asked to cover as much surface as possible with photovoltaics.

A request though, which had to deal with a series of limitations imposed by the competition rules: the guidelines concerning the presence and size of the official logos were specific and it was absolutely forbidden to hinder their visibility with solar panels.

At that time we were introducing the ISP option, Invisible Solar Power, which allows to apply a graphic on the surface of the module.

Our proposal was therefore to reproduce all the required logos on the panels thus avoiding the use of adhesives, an operation without precedents that needed to be approved by the competition jury in order to be implemented.

Once approved and defined the amount of power that was needed, around 500 watts, the project began to take shape. We chose the SP series, to ensure the greatest possible efficiency thanks to its back-contact cells.

Despite a small loss of power - if compared to the standard configuration - the application of the graphics on the panels allowed a complete integration with the boat, resulting in a 578 Wp plant, a result never achieved before on rowboats.

In conclusion, the particular adaptability, customisability and flexibility of Solbian panels make them well suited to this kind of applications that simultaneously present curved surfaces, reduced spaces and irregular shapes.

Design: Tembo