Solar canal boat on historic river journey

solar-boat-sunsetBill Carlsen, a professor of Environmental Education at Penn State University, and his wife, Cynthia Berger, a public radio reporter and news director for WPSU-FM in State College, Penn., are on the world’s first sustainably powered boat trip around Eastern North America.

The 20-year-old steel-hulled lockmaster canal boat named the Dragonfly is 41 feet long and 10 feet wide with 400 square feet of living space. Half a ton of deep-cycle batteries capture and store the electricity generated by an eight-panel solar array on the roof of the vessel to power a 48V electric motor that turns the propeller.

In addition to solar panels the boat has a 20-year-old 60 horsepower diesel engine with 13,000 hours on it. Carlsen installed the solar panels, tracking, and motor controls himself using hardware store parts.

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According to their web site SlowBoatCruise.Com, the couple initiated the voyage as Carlsen’s year-long sabbatical project which he is using to research environmental sustainability, community development, and engineering.

From the Great Lakes to Florida
The couple started 6,000-mile journey in New York State. They then moved into the Great Lakes, and are currently in C-Quarters Marina in Carrabelle, Fla.

The Dragonfly can reach 6 m.p.h. under diesel power, but usually runs at about 3.5 mph under entirely solar powered electricity. The boat is capable of traveling faster than this under electric power. However, higher speeds drain the batteries much faster.

The couple sometimes uses the solar batteries to power devices such as lights and computers when the boat  is anchored in distant places and hope to find a way to routinely harness solar power for such devices.

Carlsen aims to bring his experience back to the classroom to teach his students that they don’t need to depend on big companies for innovation but that they can rely instead on imagination and determination.

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