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Straight from the sun: The renewables revolution has landed

Just after the latest round of climate change talks (in Bonn this time) had sort-of stalled, I took a walk to New York’s North Cove Marina.

The southern tip of Manhattan narrows to a point at its southern end and juts out into the broad expanse of New York Harbour. The Marina is on the lower West Side, far enough down for the famous landmark of Ellis Island to be clearly visible. Just beyond is the Statue of Liberty; it was a mid-June Monday and the statue was bathed in the bluish haze of a warm humid late afternoon at the end of spring. A few lazy sailboats drifted in front of it. Further away, the high, bright-orange superstructure of a Staten Island ferry passed in front of the Verrazano Narrows bridge, itself a tiny latticework on the horizon, spanning the channel between Staten Island and Brooklyn, and guarding New York’s gateway to the sea. Closer to the shore, the Circle Line sightseeing boat passed by, as did the odd ferry across the Hudson, carrying commuters home to the New Jersey shore a mile or so away across the river.

The Planet Solar in New York’s North Cove Marina (pic: M. Robbins)
The Marina itself is tucked into the steel-and-glass canyons of modern Manhattan; over it looms the new Freedom Tower that has sprung from the ruins of September 11 2001. That afternoon the MS Tûranor Planet Solar had backed into her berth in the Marina after a long trip across the Atlantic to Florida and thence up the coast. The name Tûranor is taken from J.R.R. Tolkien; it is Elvish for Power of the Sun. They are not joking. Planet Solar is powered by an enormous solar array of about 5,600 square feet (519 sq m). Walking into the marina from the south, the 89-ton boat was instantly recognisable; she is actually a catamaran, with a totally flat superstructure bar a small blister for the bridge – the rest of her topside is solar cells.


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