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Solar panels you can walk on could be an industry gamechanger

The Irish company Gridbeater has developed an inflatable pontoon boat with a walk-on deck made from a new design of solar panel. To prove the efficiency of the system, the boat has just completed a 64km circumnavigation of Lough Neagh, the largest freshwater in the British Isles.

Solar panels are commonplace on boats nowadays, even encapsulated into the hull and superstructure, as seen on the Sunreef Eco 80. However, Gridbeater is unusual in that they have been specifically designed to be walked on. The panels, in an expandable system, make up the entire deck of the amphibian, and charge a battery bank that feeds a small electric outboard.

The panels are made by a small Chinese company using a new composite, based on a corrosion resistant and flexible polymer of Etylene Terta Flouro Ethylene (ETFE). They also carry a special lamination to resist footfall, whilst remaining non-slip. Designed for 12V off-grid leisure applications, each panel is lightweight (2kg for 110W and 3.5kg/m2) and can be flexed to 50 degrees without damage. They are 24.4% efficient, 2mm thick and warrantied for 5 years, although they are expected to last for 20.

When used as a solar deck on the Gridbeater, the boat doubles as a power sink for several mobile applications. “Gridbeater Amphibian is a transportable solar power station,” the literature explains. “It can be converted into a boat and then used on lakes or rivers, then carried on a trailer to be installed in the most remote places. It provides enough power to run all your appliances, such as a fridge, a television, a microwave oven and much more, for up to four hours.”

Waterway Industrial was originally set up to provide solar arrays for buildings, but has since branched out into ‘nomadic’ power stations. The Gridbeater is the first of several products for marine solar applications, including panels for houseboats and walk-on versions for pontoons. The company is particularly focussed on boats that are entirely solar powered, aimed almost exclusively for use on inland waterways.

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