Saturday 10th August 2019: Energy Observer arrived on the island of Spitsbergen in the Svalbard Archipelago at 78° north latitude, powered solely by renewable energies and hydrogen. A historic challenge and a world first.
After 5,700km covered from St Petersburg, under unfavourable weather conditions and in total energy autonomy, Energy Observer arrived in the Svalbard archipelago, considered by the scientific community as ‘Ground Zero’ of climate change. For Energy Observer’s crew, this stopover was undoubtedly the most symbolic of their Northern Europe Odyssey.
A major challenge
Since the beginning of the adventure, Energy Observer’s team had dreamed of taking up a big challenge: to rally the Arctic in total energy autonomy, without carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, fine particles or noise pollution that could disturb the ecosystems, and in complete harmony with nature.
It’s a symbolic challenge. The continued success of Energy Observer’s project demonstrates that it is now possible to develop environmentally friendly ocean mobility, even in the most extreme weather conditions or geographies.
Victorien Erussard, Founder and Captain of Energy Observer, commented, “We sailed from Russia to Spitsbergen in total energy autonomy and demonstrated that our energy mix is the future not only of maritime transport, but also of the new energy networks developed on land. Moreover, in such a remote and yet deeply impacted by climate change region, it is a strong symbol to arrive with this ship without an internal combustion engine or without the use of diesel unlike any other vessel, including sailboats.”
“It is urgent to act on all fronts! We can’t wait any longer, the next few months are crucial. We really want to show that our resources are not unlimited and that we must cooperate with nature intelligently as we do with our boat: we produce what we consume, and we go at the speed that REN’s (renewable energies) allows us to reach!”
Spitsbergen: Epicentre of climate change
The location of Spitsbergen is also considered highly symbolic. For Energy Observer’s team it is the epicentre of climate change, a true Ground Zero and the perfect place for the ultimate call to action. This is borne out in some compelling, concerning numbers. In less than 20 years, the Arctic has lost 1.6 million square kilometres of ice, an accelerating ice melt which has consequences not only for the local ecosystem but also for the rest of the globe, in the short, medium and long-term.
Our CO2 emissions must be reduced by 45% by 2030 if we want to contain temperature increases to 1.5°C in the most optimistic scenario and thus, significantly slow down catastrophes such as this accelerating ice melt. This particular statistic was a takeaway from last year’s IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report; COP 25, held during the Santiago Climate Change Conference in Chile in December, will aim to relaunch the objectives set out by the Paris Agreement in 2015 (COP 21) and affirm the message that greater action is required.
For the Energy Observer’s team, going to the epicentre in the shape of Spitsbergen was a crucial mission in raising awareness of this crusade and a timely call to action. Jérôme Delafosse, Expedition Leader and Film Director, reflected, “Reaching the Arctic with renewable energies and hydrogen may have seemed impossible, but we have done it. Beyond the technological challenge, it is a political message that we wish to convey. Spitsbergen represents the ground zero, the epicentre of climate change, and it is here that the devastating effects of humanity on climate and biodiversity can best be seen.”
“We wanted to prove that if we can sail in an extreme environment thanks to this ship, tomorrow everyone will be able to live thanks to REN’s and we will have a real tool to transform the world. It is true, we are the first to accomplish this feat, but this is not a competition, we are doing our part to raise awareness among citizens, decision-makers and industrialists about the absolute urgency to reconcile man and nature. The decisions we make in the coming years will have an impact on the next millennia.”
The marine energy chain
This particular leg of the voyage also aimed to strengthen Energy Observer’s role as an accelerator for research and development (R&D) by testing innovative technologies in extreme conditions. During the navigation from St. Petersburg, the crew and engineers worked hard on the Oceanwings® wind propulsion wings, H2 View understands. These wings, tested for the first time on a vessel of this size, have been optimised thanks to the feedback from sailing in complex weather conditions comprised of strong headwinds, squalls, adverse seas, and very little sun.
Marin Jarry, Fleet Director and Second Captain, explained, “The challenge of this last phase of navigation, 600 nautical miles between Tromso and Longyearbyen, was to validate the proper functioning of the wings and to push the boat and the entire energy chain to its limits under very harsh conditions! A real strategy game with rotating winds, very little sunshine, and changing currents.”
These significant system adjustments and optimisations took place in several phases. In the Baltic Sea, the wings experienced technical problems with strong headwinds; in the Norwegian Sea, the system was updated with the CNIM and VPLP in a degraded mode on the port wing, resulting in manual management of their settings; in the icy Arctic Ocean, the system further evolved (encoders, sensor debugging, software evolution) for optimised use during this long crossing.
Hydrogen played its key role in offsetting the intermittency of renewable energies, especially in high latitudes where the sun is lower and the cold requires even more precise management of energy costs and life on board. Dominique Lecocq, Vice-President of Ecosystems & Communications for Air Liquide Hydrogen WBU and Editorial Advisory Board member of H2 View, spoke of her pride at the role of hydrogen in the Energy Observer mission. “This awesome project demonstrates what hydrogen is intended to bring to the construction of an autonomous energy universe: the ability to manage the gaps between production and need and to intelligently fill these gaps in the form of electric energy.”
Ultimately, the achievements of Energy Observer and its team – both on land and at sea – are a huge step forward in hydrogen mobility and sustainability for us all, demonstrating the capabilities in hydrogen mobility. Its arrival in Spitsbergen was the culmination of three years and 15,000 nautical miles of sailing around Europe, but it was also a technological first and symbolic wave-maker.