Solar Energy’s Rapid Growth to Save the Oceans

Ocean warming and acidification have devastating effects on our oceans: coral bleaching, species migration, mollusks’ and planktons’ stunted growth are only some of the impacts our fossil fuel economy is having on the planet’s most precious ecosystem. Solar power is currently the most promising energy source to replace fossil fuels and enable a clean energy economy.

Solar Photovoltaic (PV) deployment has seen a rapid rise, however its contribution to global electricity generation was still only around 1.2% in 2015 (International Energy Agency). But here is the exciting news: the Renewables 2017 Global Status Report (released on 7 June) detailed that increase in installed renewable power capacity set new records in 2016, rising by almost 9 per cent over 2015, to nearly 2,017 GW. According to the report, solar PV accounted for around 47 per cent of the capacity added. China in fact doubled its solar production in one year. Why such growth?


Growth of Renewable Energies
Growth of Electricity from Renewable Energies


Costs have plummeted since 1975. Dramatic cost reductions have been the primary driver behind global market expansion (IRENA 2016). Investment in renewables has been rising worldwide, with solar and wind representing about 90% of investments in 2015. Solar PV was the largest renewable energy employer in 2015, supporting 2.8 million jobs (IRENA 2016).


Since 1975, solar prices have plunged; installations have risen sharply since 2005
(Earth Policy Institute/Bloomberg, 2015)



Solar energy has a brilliant future, especially when integrated into a smart system. There is a great momentum happening worldwide already; there is no going back. Notably, oil executives are mentioning that the energy transition will continue. For example, Shell Oil executive Ben van Beurden recently commented that the energy transition is “unstoppable” and is driven by policy, public sentiment and technology. In effect, one could conclude that the 21st century’s “green revolution train has left the station. The Race for Water Foundation aspires to shed light on the fact that the clean energy future is NOW and its success is in the mix of Solar and Wind, with a lot of Solar!


The Race for Water Vessel
Aerial View of The Race for Water vessel


The Race for Water Odyssey of Hope is a world tour using a clean-energy vessel dominated by solar. The Race for Water is a vessel built to advocate the need to accelerate the clean energy transition. As a living environment, the vessel is more than simply a transportation vehicle, it is a living space for a community of crew, scientists, and we hope soon, students. As such it is a model for land based communities that need to install new energy systems.


The Race for Water Living area
Marco Simeoni, President of the Foundation, during a presentation on-board the Race for Water



The beauty and primary power of the Race for Water is right there on the deck: its solar panels. The entire upper deck and retractable wings are covered with 500 square meters (5300 sq ft) of solar panels, totaling around 28,000 photovoltaic cells which can supply 90 kWp of energy during a sunny day, and power the boat at an average speed of approximately five knots. This is by far the predominant source of power onboard.

500 square meters of solar panels power the Race for Water


In 2012, the Planer Solar expedition, followed a few years later by the Solar Impulse adventure, proved that circumnavigating the world powered only by the sun is possible. These incredible feats were the catalyst for the Race for Water Odyssey of Hope. We want to take these historic efforts to the next level, so the boat was transformed into a mixed-energy vessel (kite traction wind and hydrogen technologies were added, and integrated into the solar): a completely autonomous vehicle powered only by renewables.  And now the re-fitted Odyssey of Hope is showcasing our mission around the world: to preserve our oceans and protect them against climate change, by boosting the clean energy transition to NOW.


The availability of sun and cost reduction are paving a bright future for solar power. Solar PV will be incorporated more and more into buildings, clothing, roads and elsewhere. The possibilities are almost limitless.

Interestingly, the observation of the dramatic decline in solar costs since 1977 has been labeled as Swanson’s Law, named after the founder of SunPower Corporation, Dr. Richard Swanson.  He took the principle of Moore’s Law and demonstrated that prices of solar PV tend to drop 20% for every doubling of cumulative shipped volume, resulting in a halving of costs about every ten years.


The Swanson Effect
The Swanson Effect : Solar Panel dramatic price reduction per volume of production(Bloomberg, New Energy Finance)


Perhaps this Swanson Effect will be seen in mixed renewables. As the world evolves into the green energy era, there will be an evident need for a combination of sources and storage in any given location.  For example, weather cannot be changed — when solar energy is too weak to generate enough power, alternative sources can pick up the slack. Race for Water demonstrates that this is feasible with its integrated sun-wind energy production mix and storage solution!

Changing Planet


Meet the Author
The Race for Water Foundation is an organization dedicated to the preservation of water and the ocean in particular. This indispensable resource is under massive threat from pollution and must be protected. The Foundation aims to identify, promote and implement technological solutions to preserve the ocean. Race for Water remains committed and head back to sea with the Race for Water Odyssey : a 5-year expedition around the world dedicated to science and energy transition, using the ocean, the sun and the wind as its sole sources of energy