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Solar panel systems' prices have dropped dramatically in recent years, making them an increasingly popular environmentally friendly energy source.Many automobile manufacturers are already exploring the feasibility of solar energy for use in their vehicles, but what about solar panels for boats? The question is whether or not solar electricity can be a practical resource for the propulsion of ships at sea.
Fossil fuels are still the majority option for generating power throughout the world, and many people think the reason for that is simply economics: fossil fuels are cheaper. Recently, however, that has begun to shift. In 2019, the LCOE for the world's 37% of coal-fired power plants was $109/MWh. The levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) for solar panels hit $40/MWh the same year, down from $359/MWhn only a decade earlier.
The price of solar modules has dropped dramatically over the last four decades, from $106 per watt in 1976 to an unbelievable $0.38 per watt in 2019. That’s led to a broad acceptance of solar panels for applications including residential, commercial, grid-scale, automotive, and even marine.
While larger vessels are more responsible for the majority of the United States' 40.4 million metric tons of CO2 emissions in 2019, smaller vessels are not exempt. Powering boats, ferries, and yachts with solar PV has been investigated alongside the use of wind and biofuels to reduce carbon emissions from shipping, both of which I examined in a recent video.
Despite their futuristic name, the first electric watercraft was built in the nineteenth century.On May 18, 1834, Prussian inventor Moritz von Jacobi created a primitive electric motor that was later refined and put in a 28-foot paddle boat. In 1838, the first known electric boat launched in Russia and carried 14 people across the Neva River. The 180 kg of zinc batteries gave it the ability to move at a pace of around 2.5 kilometers per hour.
Battery technology has come a long way since then, but back then it was too expensive, too bulky, and not rechargeable to justify mass-producing electric boats. Improvements in motor technology were sparked by the invention of recharging technologies such as the lead-acid battery in 1859 and the dry cell battery employing zinc, manganese, and ammonium chloride in 1866. William Woodnut Griscom of Philadelphia invented the outboard engine in 1879, and roughly three years later, the first commercially produced electric boat went for a spin. The 7.6-meter-long boat, powered by batteries, had a six-hour range and cruised at an average speed of 13 kilometers per hour.
After that, a number of electric boats hit the water, and interest in the technology grew. Like their land-based counterparts, electric boats were left to flounder in the wake of the advent of internal combustion engines in the 1920s.
Oil prices increased by 400% between October 1973 and February 1974, but the cost of solar panels plummeted to $100/W by 1975. Alan Freeman of Rugby, England, built the first solar-powered watercraft in that year. It was a 2.5-meter catamaran fitted with 10 solar modules, each having 5 cells linked in series to provide a very modest 1.3 watts.
It wasn't until 2006 and 2007 that a boat powered only by solar energy from 48 panels made the crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. Solar boat competitions didn't begin until the 1990s. The boat had a maximum speed of 11 kilometers per hour and a running time of 20 hours on a single charge (7 mph).
Global climate change legislation has paved the way for the creation of more efficient solar-powered boats, but before we set sail towards the cutting edge of propulsion technology, let's review the fundamentals.
The energy produced by the solar panels is stored in batteries and used to power the boat. A charge controller regulates this current to keep the solar panel operating at maximum efficiency. A motor controller not only regulates the motor's speed and torque but also inverts the DC power from the batteries into AC power. The boat may then be propelled by connecting a prop shaft or drive unit to the motor's axis.
Hybrid technologies include those in which a generator is used to replenish the batteries, such as a diesel generator built in parallel to the electric motor to increase range in case of an emergency. similar to hybrid automobiles in many ways. However, these solutions aren’t as green as solar-powered boats.
Fully electric boats provide various benefits compared to conventional boats that employ combustion engines. They’re quiet, clean, need very little maintenance, have regeneration capacity, and are lightweight ean electric propulsion system is roughly 30% lighter than a diesel system, largely because diesel engines are bigger and heavier than electric motors. Also, in the first ten years, electric boats are predicted to have maintenance costs that are less than one-fifth of those of diesel engines. Diesel, oil, filters, and so forth are all unnecessary (you get the idea). On top of that, the fire threat of storing gasoline or diesel on the boat is substantially greater than storing batteries.
However, like anything in the modern world, solar-powered boats have their negatives. To begin, their range is far lower than that of gasoline- or diesel-powered boats. Given that gasoline has an energy density around one hundred times that of a lithium-ion battery, an electric boat would need a considerably higher volume of cells to offer the same range as a normal diesel or gasoline engine, which would significantly increase the weight of the vessel.
Although the price of lithium-ion batteries has decreased dramatically over the last few years, the initial investment in a gas-powered outboard engine is much less than it would be in an electric one. However, here is where solar energy comes into play, both to increase range by charging the batteries and to decrease the long-term expenses of ownership.
Some firms all around the globe have been working on innovative ways to use solar electricity in maritime applications. And some of these things, like luxury boats, are terrific indications of what’s possible. Granted, luxury boats have an outsized demand on resources and exorbitant expenditures when you consider that they’ll be utilized by a tiny number of individuals. On the other hand, you have something like a boat that can carry thousands of people around, which is a more fair use of resources. However, comparable to high-end automobiles, the base price of a luxury boat is rather costly because of the advanced design features it incorporates. As the cost to produce such ideas decreases, they will trickle down to cheaper, more widespread products.
The Spanish company SILENT-YACHT has created a wide range of solar-powered boats.There are three versions of the SILENT 60, each having an 18-meter length and a solar array with a 17-kilowatt power output used to power the propulsion system. Two 50 kW motors and 143 kWh of batteries are one possibility, while two 340 kW motors and 286 kWh of batteries are another. It has a cruising speed of 6–8 knots and can achieve a high speed of 13–20 knots, depending on the propulsion system. Be prepared for sticker shock, however; the base price is €2.4 million (about $2.78 million).
In case you're not familiar with the market for high-end watercraft, the Heliotrope 65, a comparable diesel-powered yacht measuring in at 19.8 meters in length, can be purchased for $1.98 million.
The SILENT 80, a bigger yacht also manufactured by Silent-Yacht, is equipped with solar panels capable of producing 26 kW of electricity. The catamaran can go up to 100 nautical miles per day on solar power alone, without using any fuel, while maintaining a whisper-quiet cruising speed of 6-7 knots. Further, each SILENT boat has a diesel generator in case of emergencies. Initially, you should expect to pay about €5.4 million (approximately $6.26 million). For the sake of further comparison, the Fairline Ocho Uno, a similarly styled aircraft powered by fossil fuels, is now available for a more reasonable $1.95 million.
Regarding managing and maintaining traditional diesel-powered boats, research by Towergate Insurance, a UK-based broker, suggests that owners need to spend at least 10% of what they purchased for the yacht per year. Accordingly, it takes at least $200,000 a year to pay for the upkeep and operation of a yacht that costs $2 million. While diesel now costs $0.96 per liter in the U.S., solar panels replenish the batteries for free, and if energy is required to recharge the batteries, the current cost of power in the U.S. is roughly $0.10 per kWh—and in various ports across the world, utilizing charging stations is free. Moreover, the limited number of moving parts in an electric powertrain makes it easier to maintain than a conventional internal combustion engine.
Moving beyond luxury yachts, the Singapore-based business Azura Marine is creating boats, ferries, and plastic collectors. Ferries are a prominent mode of transportation in India, and Azura offers three distinct types that vary in length, horsepower, and the number of passengers they can carry. The bigger form, the E-FERRY 45, can carry 35 to 50 people; the entire length is 12.5 meters; and the ferry is powered by a pair of two motors rated at 20 kW and a battery bank of 60 kWh. With a top speed of 9–10 mph, its range is restricted; yet, while cruising at 4 knots, it can go almost everywhere.
To get into some particular advantages, we may look at another business working on solar ferries, Navalt, which developed India’s first solar ferry. ADITYA is a 20-meter-long catamaran ferry that can hold 75 people and is powered by two 20-kW engines that utilize the electricity provided by the 20-kW PV array. In four years, this boat has saved 130,000 gallons of fuel and avoided 330 tons of CO2. The cost of ADITYA is 1.95 Cr, equal to $260,894. A diesel ferry with equivalent amenities would cost roughly 1.5 crore ($200,687).
When it comes to maintenance, a similar diesel-powered yacht would need oil and filters, as well as engine overhaul expenditures. Navalt determined that the first year's fuel costs for a diesel version of the ADITYA were $28,235, whereas the first year's grid electricity costs for the ADITYA were $62,235, or $835. The maintenance cost of operating the diesel ferry for one year every day was 210,243 ($2,823). In comparison, the solar ferry requires little maintenance other than the occasional battery replacement (about seven years since the ADITYA started its operation). The replacement cost of the battery cells is projected to be 2,500,000 ($33,573) at the present pricing. The total cost of ownership (TCO) of the ADITYA in a 20-year cycle comes out at 27,440,000 ($368,497). On the other hand, the TCO for its diesel sister is 91,470,000 ($1,228,369), approximately three times more.
The market for solar-powered ferries and yachts is expected to expand rapidly over the next few years, thanks to falling component prices and government incentives for the electrification of boats. Yachts, a popular example of a luxury alternative, are still out of reach for most people because of their greater initial cost in comparison to their diesel counterparts. But when we evaluate solar ferry boats, like the ADITYA, solar and battery-powered boats show themselves to be amazing in terms of cost and advantages, given that they’ll carry hundreds or thousands of passengers every day.
Can a ship be powered by solar?
While Gunter Pauli's latest project, Porrima, a solar-powered ship measuring 118 feet in length and 79 feet in width, isn't likely to solve environmental disasters overnight, it is helping. More significantly, it provides a credible solution to climate change that has the potential to alter the course of human history.
Are solar-powered boats any good?
The 2021 Marine Industry Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI) Awards were given to Axopar Boats for outstanding performance in maintaining happy customers.
Will ships ever be electric?
From cargo ships to ferry boats, electrified transport is starting to create waves in marine markets, with the worldwide industry predicted to be valued at $16.2 billion by 2030 and significant firms such as Siemens AG, General Electric, and ABB all getting in on the action.
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