Solar boat powers Operation Grand Canyon

Solar-panelled boat on the Colorado River The 12 solar panels are sufficient to power a small house

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While Dan Snow prepared himself for rapids, rocks, rations and rattlesnakes ahead of BBC Two's Operation Grand Canyon, the production team had its own concerns.

Like how do you power 29 cameras, 14 microphones and 88 batteries when you're stuck in the middle of the wilderness for 18 days, with no access to electricity?

The team - which was tracking Snow's 280-mile journey through the Grand Canyon in an antique wooden rowing boat - looked to the Arizona sun to solve the problem in sustainable fashion.

They created a solar boat, fitting 12 solar panels to canopies above one of the five motor boats supporting the expedition.

The latest high-spec panels were used, each capable of generating more than 2000 watts of power in full sun - together, enough to power a small house.

Keep the noise down

'Generators were not an ideal solution in a natural wilderness environment that is essentially silent,' explains production manager Gezz Mounter.

'One of the reasons the area is regulated by the National Park Service is to ensure that there is no light or noise or waste pollution in the canyon, as it's a very precious region. So, in respecting the natural wilderness, we looked into other options.'

Three wooden boats in Grand Canyon Three boats in a gorge: Snow retraces 1869 journey

They couldn't carry enough batteries to see out the trip as they'd take up too much space, while the motors on the boats were too small to generate enough power from the river. But could they rely on solar power in the middle of the monsoon season, when thick cloud cover was a distinct possibility?

'Solar power has developed a lot,' Mounter tells Ariel. 'Some panels now work off sunlight, rather than direct sunlight, which was important, not just because it was the rainy season, but because we were in such a deep gorge that our direct sunlight was limited.'

Full of energy

But they weren't taking any chances, intent of capturing every aspect of life on the expedition which retraced the first exploration of the Colorado River in 1869, from riding the rapids to setting up camp.

Marine batteries and the out-motors of the boats were on hand to provide short-term back-up, while a small generator was the last resort if the solar power fell short.

'There was an issue early on with one of the connectors not working,' says Mounter, 'but in the end, we had more than enough power, even being a connector down, to power the whole trip.

'By using solar power we were able to achieve what we needed to without compromising the environment in any way.'

Operation Grand Canyon, BBC Two, Sunday January 12

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