The Elon Musk of solar-powered boats


There are more than one billion cars in the world. Energy consumption is therefore astronomical. That also applies to shipping. It can readily cost several million euros to refuel a container ship. Could it be done more cheaply? Difficult to say. But it can be done in a more eco-friendly manner – with climate-neutral boats. Solar-powered boat pioneer and physicist, Falk Viczian, also dreams of greater energy efficiency. But how can life on board a boat be designed in a sustainable way?

The number is impressive. According to the Federal Environment Agency, around 40,000 merchant ships transport goods by sea – every single day. They burn fossil fuels, introduce exhaust gases into the water unfiltered and their design has a negative impact on marine life. One alternative could be hybrid and solar-powered boats. However, it will take many more years for this to be achieved. Falk Viczian knows that, too. In 2013, the physicist fulfilled his dream of independent living and researching on the water – with a solar-powered boat.

“This dream has now become a passion. I not only want to live on the water but also propel the boat with solar energy,” Viczian says. “That’s why I also set up “Falk Viczian Solarboot-Projekte gGmbH” in 2014. Together with partners from the world of science, we are now researching into how solar power can also be used in shipping.” And the team still has a lot of work ahead of it. The organisation’s own solar-powered houseboats are also evidence of this. For example, in countries like Germany, there is not always enough sunlight to drive the engines. Some boats therefore already combine solar and hybrid solutions. However, for longer journeys the vessels cannot do entirely without diesel generators. But even that is definitely more sustainable.

Solar boat Solarwave
Soaking up the sun: The solar-powered boat SolarWave in the Ionian Sea off Greece.

Water – the world’s largest energy store

Apart from the ship’s propulsion, the greatest challenges are heating and air conditioning on board. “The water acts more or less like a large energy store. Using heat pumps, this store of energy can be exploited to heat the boat in winter and efficiently cool it in summer,” the pioneer of solar-powered boats explains. “We are therefore already working, for example, with special insulation for the windows on solar-powered houseboats.” In order to provide additional energy, Viczian’s solar-powered boat “CruisingHome” in Düsseldorf’s Medienhafen currently also has an oil-fired central heating system, a wood-burning stove and is sometimes connected to the electricity grid. The boat is therefore an advertisement for sustainable living – on and beside the water. Viczian is also on a sort of advertising and education tour in Greece. There, he can operate his second solar-powered boat “SolarWave” entirely with solar energy for the six-month-long summer. And something else is better there than in Düsseldorf. “The water quality and the weather are simply wonderful,” Viczian says.