Group wants to put floating solar-powered classroom on the Peconic River

The owner of a Aquebogue-based solar company has taken steps to launch an international nonprofit foundation dedicated to educating youth on solar energy.

The foundation, Solar Pioneer International Inc., is seeking grants and donations to fund its first major project, a solar-powered boat that doubles as a classroom to give rides up and down the Peconic River and into the Peconic bays while teaching passengers about the waterways and how the boat uses solar energy.

“It’s an environmentally clean way to run a boat on the bays with no gasoline and no pollution,” said Gary Minnick, the owner of Go Solar who is launching the foundation. “We’re all trying to protect the bays nowadays.”

Board members of the foundation are hoping to dock the boat in downtown Riverhead, and are seeking Riverhead Town’s help in applying for grants.

“We believe solar is still in infancy and needs a lot of education,” Mr Minnick said, adding that he envisions the foundation providing educational services overseas eventually. “We’re going to try to build high-value educational systems to educate the public and solar energy and its variety of uses.”

Solar-powered energy replaces fossil fuels, reducing the number of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. The boat the group is hoping to build will run purely on power from the sun. Instead of a canopy, the boat will have a flat top of modules. When sunlight hits the modules, electricity is instantly generated, explained Adam Eberhardt, photovoltaic systems engineer at Go Solar. It would remain docked on rainy days.

Passengers on the boat will learn about aquatic ecology and can monitor gauges that show how much power the boat is using as well as how much power the sun is generating.

The solar-powered boat, which seats 20, will also be less noisy than traditional boats. The electric motor produces a quiet hum, according to the staff at Go Solar.

“All you hear is water splashing,” Mr. Minnick said.

Other products of Mr. Minnick’s solar company include a portable power device called Solar Traveler and a classroom called Sunshack that has been showcased on the Riverhead riverfront.

A classroom on wheels, it is equipped with a solar electric system, a solar water heater and a windmill. Mr. Minnick has taken the classroom to schools and events and invited people to walk through it and learn about solar energy.

The Solar Traveler has been used to replace gasoline-powered energy at events such as the Riverhead Blues Festival and the Garden of Eve garlic festival.

The solar-powered boat, which will be wheelchair-accessible, should cost about $75,000. Mr. Minnick said the boat will be built in Florida and completed in April or May, when it will be driven up the coast to Riverhead, stopping at marinas to give people rides along the way.

Go Solar, Mr. Minnick’s company, previously built three less-expensive solar-powered boats. The third made history as the first to go around all of Long Island.

“We’ve proven to everybody we can do this,” he said

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