Solarflex

Or how to make every boat run on solar energy

How nice would it be if you could easily convert every boat into a solar powered one? This is the aim of the project Solarflexxx, which aims to build a custom and adjustable framework to do just that. Also, they want to use it for a solar powered water taxi, that brings people from the campsite to the festival and back.

DAY 1

The group just met in DORP. One girl is braiding the hair of the Chiem, a guy who has longer hair then most girls there. They are students, some from Leeuwarden, others from different cities in different countries. The notes and plans are blowing across their table, while they're brainstorming. Thinking up ideas of what to do with all that solar energy they are going to gain with their new invention.

"We are going to build a frame that fits all different types of recreational boats. On top of that frame are solar panels, so the solar panels can power a little electric output motor", the man with the braids explains. There is a little problem though: the boat isn't here yet. But you don't need a boat to think up ideas.

As the day passes and the plans start to dry out, they start talking with other people, from other projects. For inspiration. "But I kind of lost everyone now," Chiem complaints, “One of the girls is getting some food for us, the other one is talking to people from another project, and I guess everybody had a bit of a creative overkill. But it'll be allright. We've still got the entire evening, and a lot of days to come.”

Day 2

There's a new boat in the water. Is it theirs? "Yes, that's our boat," Chiem laughs. “We got it today. But don’t make pictures of it, it’s not really a beauty. Instead, you should take a look at the drawings of what it is going to be!” A drawn “canomaran” is shown, with an old motor of rotating blades in between two canoes. “We thought up an idea of how to sail past the regulations, and still get people transported in this area by a boat." 

Later, he explains the idea to other participants of DORP and pries them for their thoughts about the boat. Like almost every project in DORP today, a critical eye from an outsiders leads to fresh insights. The board with a collection of post-its about the solar boat, keeps getting more and more colorful, but also more organized. “We really made some steps today. Tomorrow we will go to the store to buy our needed materials, and then things are really happening!”

This is it. And starting tomorrow, we are gonna build it. - Chiem, project manager of Solarflexxx
A first drawing of the 'Canomaran.

DAY 3

Chiem and the team didn't get to much rest in the night. Some copper thieves were spotted near the campsite and the police made quite some ruckus finding those people. 

The lack of sleep doesn't stop them from creating and building the first bits of the solar boat on the beach.

The table were they were writing and drawing on yesterday, has been transformed into a crafting table. Big lime screws on the sides are keeping little blocks of wood on the table, while the papers with ideas and drawings tumble away in the wind.

Chiem is cutting up pieces of wood, while the others are making the frame for the solar system they're gonna put on the boat. On the beach right across their table lay two canoes and the ramshackle boat we saw yesterday. "We are finishing the model," he says, nodding towards the three water transportation devices. "Tomorrow that should be finished." 

And while they are crafting their machine, they are talking about another rough night in the making. It's karaoke night. "Oh, and we have to think up the name for our team in the tent contest at the campsite," the project manager remembers. Another very important mark on the ever-increasing to-do list.

I'm gonna be on a boat

Day 4

As the fourth day starts, a little crisis unfolds. About an hour ago they discovered that the frame they're building isn’t strong enough. Solar panels are quite heavy, who knew?

It doesn’t mean the initial plan of a solar taxi isn’t possible. There just isn’t enough time, equipment and materials to make it in this week of DORP. "Now we are thinking of new things we can do with this boat", Chiem explains happily. "Also, the boat has a name. Anna. Anna is a good name for a boat."

“Anyway, we are back to brainstorming! But there're already a few cool things we thought up," he says. "Like maybe put lights in it, and keep the boat in the middle of the water. It'll look pretty." 

DAY 5

"Well yes, our initial idea is totally gone," Chiem admits as the fifth day is half way. The framework is being removed from the boat, as it wasn't stable at all. No one worries about the setback, because yesterday, they thought of a brand new plan. Again. "And today we're gonna build it!"

"We still want to promote and motivate people for sustainable transport on water. So we will build a platform on this boat, with lights and an engine driven by solar power. It will go round in circles in the lake during the festival. And on the boat, there will be some sort of text that will start a discussion. Awareness, you know, or raise questions on sustainable transport.” Chiem seems quite content with their plan, as usual.

What text will be on the boat? he can’t tell yet. “It has to be something that’s really wide”, he explains with his arms illustrating exactly that. “But how are we going to collect people’s questions, answers or critical views on this topic?" the project manager has no answer to his own question. "Maybe it isn’t even possible, maybe that’s not even something we need. I’m trying to figure that out, right now..."

In the afternoon, a whole new wooden construction is on Boat Anna. The vessel is now a box and now it’s time to think about the engine that is going to power it. They try this and that and nothing quite works. For some reason, there's also a van standing on the beach. "Maybe we can use it," says Chiem. Eventually, they don't.

"Yeah, our initial idea is totally gone."
- Chiem, for maybe the fifth time

DAY 6

Early afternoon on the sixth day and again, a whole new construction is being build on the boat. It looks like a huge shoe box now, with solar panels on top. They're busy making a grand paddle wheel that will run on solar energy, and others are walking around the boat putting the last screws in. And what about that question on the side of the boat, that was supposed to inspire people?

Chiem vaguely remembers that plan. "Ah, was that the idea? Yes. No, that's not going to happen," he says resolutely. It's a miracle, but there's another idea now. "We'll make a bright light in it, that shines like the sun. That way we will promote solar power!" 

day 7

The grand paddle wheel is actually made and some team members are attaching it to the boat. Chiem looks at the scene contently as he takes off his heavy duty worker boots. "Pff, man.. I have to do this," he says. Two pair of soaking wet socks appear. “Yeah, the boots are actually a little big," the solar guru explains his choice of clothing. "So that’s why I where two pair of socks. But it’s actually way too hot for this," he laughs. 

He points at boat Anna. “Tomorrow, we can hopefully test if it stays afloat. I really hope it does. But first, we really have to make the wheel steady, otherwise the whole thing won’t work. But we are definitely getting there.” He puts his boots back on, puts one pair of socks in his bags and grabs his tools. “Let’s go.”

This post was updated and created during DORP '17.

Story by Annemarie Lindeboom