Newsletter: Solar sets sail…literally

Canary Media takes to the high seas.

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Sing to me of the ship, Muse, the ship of solar powers…

One of the more frequent questions I get upon identifying myself as a clean-energy journalist is: When do we get cool electric ships?” 

Now we have a link for that: my feature on the French research vessel Energy Observer, which is circumnavigating the globe on renewable power it captures onboard.

I boarded the ship at anchor in Long Beach to see how it channels solar production into battery and hydrogen storage, both of which run an electric motor. It also has high-tech sails. Put all that together, and you’re able to ply the high seas without ever needing to refuel or inhale fumes in an otherwise pristine environment.

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The trade-off is that this renewable propulsion can’t maintain high speeds for long or it will run out of hydrogen faster than it synthesizes it. The tight deadlines of capitalist supply chains don’t lend themselves to a meandering, carbon-free odyssey. But I explored other promising pathways for cleaning up heavy shipping too.

If you like your news content short and audiovisual, check out this video synopsis we produced (there’s a reason it’s Canary Media, not Canary Medium). Send it to your friends who like nautical stuff.

Because I’m obsessed with coffee, I’d like to flag that the delicate balance of supply and demand was really put to the test when the French crew had to decide between pulling espressos or powering the ship’s electric motor at full speed.

But they never ran out of fuel, and there’s a broader lesson in general manager Louis-Noël Viviès’ description of how they avoided that fate:

You just adapt your consumption to what you have. If you have a lot of energy, you can go fast and spend a lot of [energy on making] espressos, and the heater and washing machine.”

The question for a fossil fuel replacement isn’t whether it exactly replicates the value we get from fossil fuels today. It’s whether it fulfills your energy needs. And if you have flexibility around what you need and when, the replacement technology could be ready right now.

In other news:

Up the road from where Energy Observer docked in Long Beach, there’s a solar jobs training desert across South L.A.

Journalist Ingrid Lobet analyzes the environmental justice implications of the lack of solar job opportunities in the part of the metropolis with the highest proportion of Black residents.

Across the continent in Washington, D.C., President Biden seems to be mulling a tax credit to support nuclear plants as part of his clean energy policy. If adopted, this could help keep these 24/7 carbon-free power plants online in the face of market and political pressures that forced a spate of recent closures.

Eric Wesoff digs into the reports and surveys other avenues for new nuclear development.


Today’s newsletter is sponsored by Florida SEIA:
Florida SEIA is hosting a Solar and Storage Summit on June 3 in Orlando! There will be continuing education classes, an exposition hall, two tracks of panel discussion and a cornhole competition. Pre-registration is required and capacity is limited!

Julian Spector is senior reporter at Canary Media.