A couple of years ago, we told you about an eco-friendly resort in the U.S. that was planning on using solar-diesel hybrid houseboats designed by Australia's Solarsailor. The boats would feature large, moving photovoltaic “wings” that would not only track the sun to gather energy, but also serve as rigid sails – so the boats could move via solar, diesel or wind power. When docked, the boats’ panels would still gather solar energy, which they would feed into the resort’s power grid. The technology has now been implemented on a passenger ferry, the Suntech-Guosheng, that will take up to 180 sightseers on cruises of the Huangpu River as part of the Shanghai World Expo.

Suntech is billed as “the world’s largest producer of crystalline silicon solar panels,” while Shanghai Guosheng Group is a Chinese state-owned investment holding company.

This isn’t Suntech’s first joint venture with an Australian solar technology company. Late last month, the Victoria-Suntech Advanced Solar Facility opened in Melbourne, where researchers will pursue the development of nanoplasmonic solar technology. Suntech has also been developing solar tech in partnership with the University of New South Wales, in Sydney.

The Suntech-Guosheng is actually one of five Solarsailor ferries recently purchased by Chinese clients. Four other boats have been sold to the Hong Kong Jockey Club, where they will constitute the world’s first commercial hybrid solar passenger ferry service. The Shanghai boat is a series hybrid, meaning its propellers are driven solely by electric power, generated by the sun or the diesel engine. The Hong Kong boats will be parallel hybrids, in that their props will be driven by both electric and diesel power.

“As our planet bears the strains of fossil fuel energy generation, we are empowering people around the world to look up and harness nature’s cleanest and most abundant energy resource,” said Suntech CEO Dr. Zhengrong Shi. “The Shanghai Expo and this remarkable Solar Sailor technology offer shining examples of the power of technology to create a better life.”

The Suntech-Guosheng ferry made its maiden voyage on June 5th. At 31.5 meters, or 103 feet, it is Solarsailor’s largest boat to date.

View gallery - 4 images