A London couple has created a pioneering new boat for Britain’s waterways. ‘The SunFlower’ runs only on solar electric power, produces zero emissions and eliminates the need for a diesel engine and onboard gas. It collects rainwater from the roof and composts waste, enabling it to be totally off-grid.
The 20m boat is the brainchild of Ryan Collingwood and Hayley Smith, a couple based near Hampton Court Palace on the outskirts of the capital. The pair met in a marina where they each owned traditional diesel boats, and together they started to dream about a more sustainable alternative.
‘Being on the river and close to Nature made us think more about the impact of diesel engines in terms of both noise and pollution. Given the rapid advances in technology for electric vehicles on our roads, we figured that there must be a more sustainable way to be on our rivers and canals too.’
Co-creator of TheSunflower
Ryan is a former South African Navy diver with over 20 years’ experience in the construction and building trades – but he’d never taken on a renewable project before.
‘I started looking for alternatives but there was simply nothing out there
that didn’t rely on diesel. Some boats have solar panels for domestic supply but there was nothing on the market that would allow us to cruise and live on the river without using fossil fuels. So we decided the only way forward was to build one ourselves, even though we’d never done anything like this before.’
Co-creator of The Sunflower
The couple ran into plenty of negative responses as they started to design a boat powered only by solar energy. ‘No-one could tell us how to do it and no-one seemed confident it could be done’, Ryan said. ‘Everyone kept saying ‘yes but what happens on a cloudy day when there is no sun? And what about the unpredictable British weather?’ I’m originally from South Africa so I think people thought I had lost the plot! I researched all sorts of possible solutions and I finally came up with a system I felt would work but it doesn’t stop the nagging doubts. What if everyone else was right and I was wrong?’
Taking a basic wide beam canal boat, the couple adapted the design to be both contemporary in style and to suit the new technology they’d be putting in. They commissioned the build of the 20mx4m steel hull in March 2016, embarked on the full fit out themselves in September 2016 and completed The SunFlower in May 2017. Hayley, a wildlife documentary producer, recorded various stages of the build.
Fitted with 20 photovoltaic solar panels (6 kilowatt hours) on the roof and a 96 kilowatt hours battery system, The SunFlower uses custom-built twin electric Lynch motors to slip almost silently through the water. The boat needs 5KW a day to run the domestic supply, so just one hour of full sun produces more than the boat’s daily domestic needs.
The 96KWH battery bank is made up of 48 cells of 2 volt x 1000 amp hours. This enables the boat to cruise for up to 10 hours or power the domestic supply for 18 days without any daylight to top up the supply.
Not wanting to sacrifice comfort in pursuit of sustainability, The SunFlower is designed as a contemporary floating apartment. It offers 64 square metres of internal living space, stylishly set out as an open-plan living area with two double bedrooms and a spacious wet room, complete with bath.
‘We wanted to create a inside space that felt more like a home than a boat. We loved coming up with some of the clever storage solutions, like the wine cellar sunk into the concrete floor. That’s a real surprise for visitors.’
Co-creator of The SunFlower
All onboard domestic appliances are also powered by the sun, including a dishwasher and washing machine. In winter, an eco-boiler stove burning
100% renewable smokeless eco logs heats the thermal mass concrete floor for maximum energy efficiency. Windows and doors are triple glazed and entry is via remote controlled keypad.
‘The look of the boat with its bright blue colour, large reflective windows and
solar roof does attract a lot of attention when we’re out on the Thames. People often ask ‘is that really fully solar powered?’ I’m so thrilled to be able to tell them that it is!’
Co-creator of The SunFlower
The couple built The SunFlower as their own private houseboat and to show what’s possible with renewable energy. Now, due to the positive interest shown, they hope to build more solar electric boats for other people.
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