In La Ciotat in the south of France, a very special boat is undergoing maintenance in a shipyard.
Pascal Goulpié welcomed euronews aboard the PlanetSolar, the only vessel that has sailed around the world using only solar power. It is big – 30 metres long – and generates its own energy from more than 500 square metres of solar panels. Having been round the world once, the boat is preparing for new adventures.
Dr Pascal Goulpié, the managing director and co-founder of the project, told us: “In the beginning it was built to demonstrate the potential, maturity and reliability of renewable energies because that was one of the first motivations – see what we can do – and today there it a lack of credibility concerning these renewable energies. But is has also become a communications platform. It is however a large boat and we want to show that we can carry large loads so we opened the boat to the public. They know this boat well, when we go into ports, this boat is a flag-carrier, a standard bearer. And today it is also a tool that we put at the service of the scientific community for projects concerning the environment.”
In partnership with Geneva University, the boat is taking a team of scientists to Florida this spring and then to Iceland, following the Gulf Stream, with the aim of collecting new data.
Dr. Pascal Goulpié said: “The research carried out by the scientific team won’t only be measuring the temperature. Obviously the Gulf Stream is a warm current. It is easy to determine whether or not we are in the Gulf Stream by taking the temperature. They will also measure biological activity in the sea by sampling phytoplanktons for example, and with a boat which doesn’t emit any exhaust fumes or gases at all, we can be sure that the analysis will not be polluted by them.”
Other research will also be carried out, like a test developed by Waste Free Ocean. The foundation will go to the North Atlantic Ocean Gyre, a huge garbage patch of plastic swirling endlessly in the sea, and PlanetSolar is well-equipped for the trip.
Bernard Merkx, of Waste Free Ocean explained: “Making a collection with a new type of boat using sustainable energy is the way we will find a solution for this waste, which is so far from any coastline. The Gyres we’re talking about, for example. Today there are five known ones on the planet and we have to find a better solution than just using fishing boats.”
On board the PlanetSolar, we met Gérard d’Aboville, the first person to have rowed across the Atlantic, who was very enthusiastic: “This expedition has a project which is to study the Gulf Stream, which is a fascinating project because from the results of the research we can learn things especially about the climatic evolution which will happen 10, 20, 30 years, a generation from now. So it’s really an essential key for our future.”
PlanetSolar sets sail again in March on its new challenge of researching the Gulf Stream.