Velux 5 Oceans - at the heart of sustainable power

Brad Van Liew in racing mode
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As the world, including the world of the cruising sailor, begins looking at sustainability and alternative forms of power to fossil fuel, so are round-world racing sailing teams. Here is a look at the lengths the Velux 5 Oceans racers go to in order to manage their consumption sustainably while racing the world’s oceans:

The Eco 60s competing in the Velux 5 Oceans boast four sources of power: the engine, wind generators, solar panels and hydro-generators. However, with a strong emphasis on sustainability in this edition of the Velux 5 Oceans, our skippers go to great lengths to rely as much as they can on wind and solar power as sustainable forms of producing electricity.

It’s all part of the race’s ‘green’ scheme Taking On The Elements, a commitment by all the race stakeholders to understand and improve the impact our event has on the world.

Operon Racing's wind generator - Velux 5 Oceans
Ainhoa Sanchez
'Using the engine is really the last resort for us,' said Active House skipper Derek Hatfield. 'There are some circumstances where I don’t use the engine to power the boat at all. During ocean sprint one I used it for less than 20 percent of my power. The wind generator is really the main source of power onboard these boats. Running the engine produces about 80 amps an hour but it burns lots of fossil fuels.

My wind generator on Active House produces 12 to 14 amps per hour. I only use seven amps an hour so the wind generator provides everything I need. Solar panels produce another three or four amps an hour on top of that. Providing there is wind, and or sun, I don’t need to run the engine at all.'

There are, of course, often times at sea when conditions are not perfect for the creation of sustainable power. But the Velux 5 Oceans skippers are dedicated to reducing their consumption of and reliance on fossil fuels so every step is taken to minimise their usage.

'When the wind is really light and there’s no sun, that’s when I run into problems and need to run the engine to charge the batteries,' Derek added. 'During the time when the wind generator and solar panels are not providing enough energy I start to think of other ways to conserve power.

I shut instruments and computers down and I change to my light wind autopilot which consumes half of what the normal pilot does. I bring the boat right back to basics. Then the boat will just be consuming three or four amps an hour.'

Two of the Velux 5 Oceans skippers are helping to push the boundaries of ecological power generation by trialing state-of-the-art hydro-generators. The ‘hydros’ are little foils with propellers attached that sit in the water off the back of the yachts. Using the movement of the boat through the water they are capable of providing all of the power needs of a yacht.

The concept is not a new one, however the hydro-generator has always been a very inefficient way to create electricity because the hydro-generators themselves were very high drag which slowed the boats down. For ocean racing they were just no good, but that is all about to change.

'The hydros we have on Le Pingouin have been designed by a French company Watt and Sea who set out to design a modern day hydro-generator,' said American skipper Brad Van Liew. 'They created a low drag, carbon fibre foil that sits in the water off the back of the boat. The propellers also adjust their pitch automatically to further reduce their drag. A computer on the boat calculates the optimum angle for the blades to be at so they create the maximum amount of power with the least drag.

'It’s still very much a developing technology and is not perfect yet but it’s getting there. I am the first racer ever to test these hydro-generators so I’m something of a guinea pig. I had hoped to go round the world without using fossil fuels at all but that hasn’t been the case. It’s a fantastic concept and I fully expect in the next two years for these hydro-generators will be commonplace on ocean racing yachts.'

Zbigniew ‘Gutek’ Gutkowski is also using hydro-generators onboard his yacht Operon Racing, albeit not as advanced as the ones on Brad’s Le Pingouin.

'I am confident about the future of hydro-generators, they are amazing things,' the Pole said. 'Normally I don’t need to charge the engine at all when I run the hydro-generators. They provide me will full charge all the time. It’s a great opportunity for the race to showcase this technology but also great for sailing in general. The hydro-generators provide quiet, clean energy.

For me, it’s been a real surprise how good they are. There have been lots of different opinions about hydro-generators but I am sure they are a good thing. It’s a good solution for the future. I think people can learn from this race and the lengths we are going to in order to be sustainable. Right now we are showing the world what it is possible to do with sustainable energy.'

The success of the hydro-generators on both Brad’s and Gutek’s yachts is clear. During ocean sprint one from La Rochelle to Cape Town, British skipper Chris Stanmore-Major, whose yacht Spartan relies on solar panels for sustainable energy, burnt 150 litres of diesel running his engine as a generator. In comparison, Brad Van Liew used just 20 litres, drawing the majority of his power from his hydro-generators.

'This edition of the Velux 5 Oceans is really breaking new ground,' Derek Hatfield said. 'The Velux 5 Oceans is showing the world a new approach to ocean racing.'

Brad sent back a video about power and sustainability, watch here

Watch Derek’s video on the subject here and read his blog here

CSM’s blog contribution for the sustainability prize is here

About the sustainability award:

The sustainability award supports the Velux 5 Oceans’ initiative Taking On The Elements, built around the principle that through sustainable practices at sea the skippers can educate and inspire people on land to change the way they live their lives. The award is judged on how the ocean racers communicate about their lives at sea in relation to key themes of sustainability. The skippers are competing for their share of a €10,000 sustainability prize fund, split between ocean sprints three, four and five.

www.velux5oceans.com