Phil Sharp Racing boat OceansLab with SunPower solar cells

Racing Toward A Healthier Planet

Phil Sharp: The Clean Energy Captain of OceansLab Sets New Limits
Maxeon Panels
Solar Pioneers

Suddenly, a 70 kph blast of wind fills her sails.

You try to steady yourself as the race boat OceansLab carries you across steep Atlantic swells at a breathtaking pace.

Her bow rises and falls, punching back at the unforgiving sea. A steep wave slams into the side of the boat, pounding the deck and trying to tear loose whatever it can.

Adrenaline surging, you remind yourself: This is no ordinary boat. It’s built for this.

No ordinary boat, indeed. OceansLab is helmed by renowned offshore sailor Phil Sharp ­– a passionate advocate for clean-tech engineering – and is powered by SunPower solar technology. Boasting zero emissions, this 40-foot racing marvel leaves traditional boats, and their fossil fuels, far behind.

Phil Sharp racing boat with SunPower Maxeon solar cells

260 high-efficiency Maxeon® solar cells power critical functions on Phil Sharp’s racing boat

Ocean racing is about pushing human and technological boundaries to their limits in the quest for victory. However, there is a much bigger race at stake on our oceans: a race to zero emissions for maritime transport, to combat heavy pollution on the high seas.
Phil Sharp, Renowned Ocean Racer

Zero Emissions, Top Performance

Sharp, a double world-record holder, skippered the only zero-emissions boat in the entire Class 40 racing circuit in 2017 and 2018 – and was crowned champion both years. “Solar energy provides a competitive advantage offshore,” he said, pointing to the significant onboard power required for navigation, weather information, communications and autopilot systems. A true solar pioneer, Sharp chose record-setting SunPower technology to replace the frequent failures and pollution of commonly-used diesel engines. He also wanted to “reap the benefits of quiet, fume-free sailing” without compromising performance.

It’s all part of Sharp’s vision to apply the power of sport to amplify the message of ocean health. And an eye-opening message it is: Globally, maritime pollution is responsible for 15% of nitrogen oxide emissions1Third IMO GHG Study 2014 and 400,000 premature deaths annually2Cleaner fuels for ships provide public health benefits with climate tradeoffs – Sofieve et. al., Nature Communications, Feb 2018. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-017-02774-9. Sharp believes that hard work and commitment to clean energy innovation can turn the tide, however. The International Maritime Organisation recently committed to reducing ship CO2 emissions by at least 40% by 2030, and 70% by 20503Resolution on Initial IMO Strategy on reduction of GHG emissions from ships.  “The shipping industry has higher greenhouse gas emissions than aviation, but is a long way behind in clean technology developments. The industry needs demonstrators, like OceansLab, to test and advance scalable prototypes in order to accelerate uptake,” he said.

On Board For A Healthier Planet

At SunPower, we’re proud to play a small but important role in helping Phil Sharp set records while protecting our planet. We’re honoured that he chose the superior efficiency of SunPower Maxeon technology to produce more solar power from the limited space on deck. And that he trusts the unique copper foundation of our solar cells to stand up to the heavy impacts and harsh, salty conditions at sea. In fact, Maxeon solar cells eliminate 86% of the reasons why corrosion and breakage lead to failure of conventional cells.4Wohlgemuth, J. “Reliability of PV Systems.” Proceedings of SPIE, 2008.

Sharp also knows that our solar technology excels in low light conditions. SunPower solar cells are more receptive to blue light (early in the day, or during cloud cover) and red light (late in the day),5National Renewable Energy Lab measurements. Green, M. et al., “Solar cell efficiency tables (version 36)” Progress in Photovoltaics, 18(5), 46–352. making them as hard working as the rest of Sharp’s team – from dawn to dusk.

Phil Sharp, skipper for Phil Sharp Racing

Phil Sharp skippered the only zero-emissions boat in the Class 40 racing circuit
in 2017 and 2018 – and was crowned Champion both years.

When adventurous pioneers like Sharp trust solar energy with their success – and their lives – they choose the reliability and unparalleled performance of SunPower technology. In this case, SunPower cells power Sharp’s sophisticated auto-pilot, as well as his satellite communications and access to weather data – all critical functions. As Sharp puts it, “SunPower’s high efficiency, lightweight, flexible solar cells were the obvious solution.” And it’s the very same cell technology found in SunPower high-efficiency solar panels on countless homes and businesses, generating up to 35% more energy over 25 years.6SunPower 400 W, 22.6% efficient, compared to a Conventional Panel on same-sized arrays (310 W mono PERC, 19% efficient, approx. 1.64 m²)

A True Pioneer

Never one to rest on his laurels, Sharp and his team aim to join the IMOCA 60 circuit, commonly called the “F1 Class” of ocean racing, with construction of an advanced foiling 60-ft boat in 2020. Sourcing clean energy from SunPower cells, it aims to be the first hydrogen-electric vessel to race around the world by entering the 2021 The Ocean Race (previously known as the Volvo Ocean Race), then building up to sailing’s Everest in 2024, the Vendee Globe; solo, non-stop, around the world, without assistance.

OceansLab is a bold, new offshore racing project acting as a test bed for cutting-edge renewable technologies. The extreme conditions of ocean racing allow the team to showcase critical technologies that outperform fossil fuels, accelerating the transition to a clean maritime industry.

SunPower salutes the endless energy and abundant optimism that makes Phil Sharp a true pioneer. We look forward to sailing alongside him as he sets new records, embraces new challenges and helps protect the fragile planet we all share.

Check back soon as we cover Sharp’s attempt to break another sailing world record, plus a behind-the-scenes look below deck at the latest clean energy developments on OceansLab!

OceansLab: Quick facts

Mission: To win races on clean innovations and accelerate uptake of renewables towards a clean maritime future

Energy: 260 high efficiency SunPower® Maxeon® cells power Sharp’s sophisticated auto-pilot, as well as his satellite communications and access to weather data.

The new OceansLab energy system will embrace the power of the hydrogen cycle, vital in decarbonising maritime transport. The fuel cell electric system will be the hybridization of a high power fuel cell that uses green hydrogen fuel, and lithium-ion batteries which are recharged by high efficiency solar PV in combination with and a hydro-turbine installed on the vessel.

Length: 12.2 meters

Top Speed: 50km/h

Phil Sharp Results:

  • 2 World Speed Sailing Records
  • Class 40 Champion 2017 & 2018
  • Only Zero Emissions Entry 2017 & 2018
  • Route du Rhum winner 2006
Phil Sharp racing boat with SunPower flexible solar panels