Tron’s Solar Sailer Is Becoming A Reality

Hurtigruten Norway is making an electric ship that will be fueled wholly by wind and solar energy.

By Kevin C. Neece | Updated

solar sailer

While not exactly like the one in Tron, plans for an electric ship that will literally be a solar sailer are in the works. According to CNN, by 2030, Hurtigruten Norway plans to put an electric ship on the water that will be fueled entirely by wind and solar energy. The adventure cruise company has just unveiled plans for the zero-emissions cruise ship, which will feature retractable solar sails.

The small company, which operates along the coast of Norway, hopes its solar sailer will inspire others in the infamously resource-guzzling cruise industry to explore ways to make their operations cleaner and greener. The company has partnered with Norwegian research SINTEF, along with 12 other organizations, to perfect the “Sea Zero,” which was announced in March of last year. The project involves developing and perfecting zero-emissions technologies for seafaring purposes.

Starting with Norway’s 98 percent renewable energy grid, the solar sailer will charge its 60-megawatt batteries in port and recharge with its solar sails and wind energy at sea. According to the originator of the idea, Gerry Larsson-Fedde, SVP of marine operations for Hurtigruten Norway, the batteries will allow the ship 300 to 350 nautical miles of travel, therefore requiring about seven or eight recharges for an 11-day voyage. The retractable, wing-like sails will extend some 50 meters and will be adjustable to catch the greatest amount of wind for forward propulsion.

That, along with the 1,500 square meters of solar panels on the sails of the solar sailer, will help reduce battery draw and allow for recharging. While Norway can be dark during the winter, the southern sun will still provide energy, and the 24-hour sun of the summer will, according to Larsson-Fedde, allow the vessel to be “super-powered.” It will also be designed to further reduce energy use with a streamlined shape that will reduce wind resistance and drag.

solar sailer
A solar spaceship from the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Explorers

There will also be a mobile app active aboard the solar sailer that will encourage passengers to reduce their energy and water consumption with shorter showers and other energy-saving measures like reducing air-conditioning use. The idea, says Larsson-Fedde, is to help passengers be aware of their own contributions to climate change and to increase their environmentally responsible behavior. This focus on ecological awareness and action is central to the core mission of “Sea Zero.”

With 270 cabins, the solar sailer will accommodate some 500 guests and 99 crew members, all of whom will be learning about environmental responsibility while enjoying a relaxing getaway. By leading the way in the advancement of greener cruise ships, Hurtigruten Norway hopes to affect industry-wide change among cruise companies. The shipping industry, too, is now working to create eco-friendly vessels.

It might not be exactly like the one imagined in Tron, but the basic concept of a solar sailer is one first explored in science fiction. The fact that it could now become a real-world technology only goes to show how great sci-fi can help us solve challenges in our everyday lives. The advancement of technology for a greener future is a ship we’d all like to sail on.