It had to happen. With the advances of solar technology, soon you will be able to have solar energy producers - photovoltaic cells - built into sunshades, biminis, dodgers and/or into the sails themselves.
The next best news is that the resultant fabric needs only light, not direct sunlight so it won't matter that dodgers and biminis are often shaded by the sails while moving.
It's breaking news that Sailmakers France, innovator of MatriX Titanium sails, has started a new company called SolarClothSystem® that will make mainsails with a USA-made film containing high efficiency photovoltaic cells.
While solar sheets have been getting more flexible over the last few years, the good news for all sailors is that the cells are even more flexible - enough to be used on sails that get rolled or folded. When the new technology is ready from around September 2014, sailors will be driven by the power of the wind while generating electrical power with the same sail giving them the independence to sail- and enjoy modern conveniences without burning any fossil fuels.
This game changing innovation is made from the latest cutting edge photovoltaic cells that do not need direct sunlight to produce electricity. In fact, they will generate electricity from any source of light. The cells can either be laminated in to a new Titanium sail (which is the company's speciality), or they can be bonded to both sides of an existing sail.
The SolarClothSystem® cells will only be installed on mainsails because the base of a mainsail provides large surface of several square meters that does not get thrashed as genoas do every time the boat tacks.
The electricity will be transferred to the boat’s batteries by wire and silver paste circuitry inside the laminate. In cases where the panels are bonded to the outside of a finished sail, the connecting wire will run under a Dacron tape.
It's early days yet, but eventually all technological advances trickle down to the cruising sailor in the form of developing technology and falling prices.
Watch this space or go to UK Sailmakers website, who will be distributing the first release of the technology when it becomes available later in the year.