How Solar Powered Boats Could be the Future of Transportation

How Solar Powered Boats Could be the Future of Transportation

Solar panel systems have seen their prices fall at a dizzying rate over the last several years, and they are increasingly being adopted as an environmentally friendly alternative to the use of fossil fuels. Solar panels are a terrific option for houses, recreational vehicles (RVs), and even certain cars (several automakers are working on making this a reality), but what about boats? Can solar energy be used as a source of electricity for watercraft such as yachts, boats, and ferries?

Solar Powered Boats

Many people believe that the widespread use of fossil fuels to generate energy may be attributed to the fact that these fuels are more cost-effective. Indeed, many people are under the impression that this is the case. But that has begun to shift over the course of the last several years. In 2019, the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for coal power plants, which are responsible for providing 37 percent of the world's electricity, was $109/MWh. The levelized cost of energy for solar panels hit $40/MWh in the same year, when only ten years before, it had been valued at $359/MWh. This is an 89% drop in just one decade.

This reduction is directly attributable to the price drop of solar modules, which fell from $106/W in 1976 to an amazing $0.38/W in 2019, representing a reduction of 99.6% over the course of those four decades. Because of this, solar panels have become more popular for use in a wide range of places, such as homes, businesses, cars, and even ships.Ajay Sahu

In the United States in 2019, ships and boats were responsible for the emission of 40.44 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Ships are responsible for the largest portion of this emitted volume, but this does not absolve smaller boats of their responsibility. As I said in a previous video, solar photovoltaics (PV) have been studied as a possible way for boats, ferries, and yachts to get power. This is in addition to wind and biofuels, which are also being looked into to reduce carbon emissions from ships.

Electric boats may seem like something from the present or the future of technology, but the very first electric boat was actually built in the 19th century. In May 1834, a German inventor, Moritz von Jacobi, created an early electric motor. This engine was later modified and mounted on a paddle boat that was 28 feet in length. In 1838, the boat completed its first voyage, which consisted of crossing the Neva River in Russia. This was the first reported launch of an electric boat. The boat carried a total of 14 people. It was propelled at around 2.5 kilometers per hour and fueled by 180 kg of zinc-based batteries.

Because batteries were cumbersome, big, and unable to be recharged at that time, it was impossible to begin mass manufacture of electric boats for commercial use. Improvements in motor technology were spurred on 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. Both of these batteries were dry cell batteries. The commercial manufacture of electric boats was made possible by the creation of outboard motors in 1879 by William Woodnut Griscom of Philadelphia. When combined with batteries, this innovation made it possible for electric boats to be used commercially for the first time roughly three years later. The boat, which was 7.6 meters in length and propelled by batteries, had an average speed of 13 kilometers per hour and could sail for six hours.

After that, a number of other electric boats were introduced to the market, and the technology began to gain popularity. But when internal combustion engines came out in the 1920s, electric boats, like electric cars, were left in the dust and eventually stopped being made.

The price of oil increased by 400% between October 1973 and February 1974, but the price of solar panels went from $400/W to $100/W in 1975. That year, Alan Freeman of Rugby, England, assembled what is considered the first solar-powered boat in the world. It was a catamaran that was 2.5 meters long and had ten solar modules. Each module had five cells that were linked in series to make 1.3 watts of power.

Solar boat championships were first held in the 1990s, and roughly three decades later, between 2006 and 2007, the first boat to cross the Atlantic Ocean using exclusively solar power from 48 panels did it between that year and the next. The boat had a maximum speed of 11 kilometers per hour and could operate for a total of 20 hours on a full charge (7 mph).

Before we go on to the most recent innovations, let's have a look at the fundamental idea of electric propulsion. The introduction of global legislation to combat climate change paved the way for the creation of enhanced solar-powered boats.

The solar panels on a boat that runs on solar power produce energy, which is then stored in the boat's batteries. Charge controllers are responsible for regulating the flow of this energy and ensuring that solar panels operate at their most efficient levels. In addition to regulating speed and torque, a motor controller is responsible for converting the direct current (DC) supplied by the batteries into alternating current (AC). In the end, a propeller shaft or drive unit is linked to the axis of the motor in order to make the boat go forward.

Other hybrid technologies utilize a generator to replenish the batteries. One example of this would be a diesel generator built in parallel to the electric engine to increase the vehicle's range in the event of an emergency. It is somewhat comparable to hybrid automobiles. However, solar-powered boats are a more environmentally friendly option than the options presented here.

When compared to conventional boats that are powered by combustion engines, fully electric boats have a number of benefits to offer. Electric propulsion systems are approximately 30% lighter than diesel systems.This is primarily due to the fact that diesel engines are larger and heavier than electric motors, making them the primary factor in the difference. They are also silent, clean, require very little maintenance, have the capacity for regeneration, and are lightweight. It is also projected that electric boats have maintenance expenditures that are less than one twentieth of what they would be with a diesel engine over the course of the first ten years. There is no fuel, no oil that has to be changed, no filters, and so on (you get the idea). In addition to this, the risk of starting a fire when storing gasoline or diesel on the boat is noticeably larger than the risk of starting a fire while storing batteries.

Solar-powered boats come with their fair share of drawbacks

However, just like everything else in the realm of technology, solar-powered boats come with their fair share of drawbacks. To begin with, their cruising range is much less than that of boats driven by gasoline or diesel. Because gasoline has an energy density that is approximately one hundred times higher than that of a lithium-ion battery, an electric boat would need a volume of batteries that is much larger in order to provide the same range as a conventional diesel or gasoline engine, which would result in the boat being heavier.

In terms of expense, despite the fact that the cost of lithium-ion batteries has come down significantly over the last several years, the initial expense of purchasing a gas-powered outboard engine as opposed to an electric one is less. However, this is where solar energy comes into play, since it can be used to increase the range of an electric vehicle by recharging its batteries while also lowering the overall cost of ownership during the vehicle's lifetime.

Several businesses all around the globe have been working hard to come up with innovative solutions in an effort to use solar energy to power maritime vessels. And some things, like luxury boats, are excellent examples of what is possible in the world now. Granted, luxury boats have a disproportionately large demand on resources and very expensive expenditures, especially when you consider that only a tiny number of individuals would utilize them. On the other hand, you might have something like a ferry that can transport thousands of people from one location to another, which would be a better use of the resources. But much like high-end automobiles, luxury yachts begin at a premium price owing to the inventive ideas that go into their design. As the cost of producing these ideas decreases, consumers will start to see them integrated into less expensive and more widely available models.

The Spanish company, SILENT-YACHT, has developed many different kinds of solar-powered boats and has begun manufacturing them. Its 18-meter long SILENT 60 is outfitted with a 17-kilowatt solar array that is used to power the propulsion system, which comes in three different configurations. The available configurations range from 2 motors with a combined power of 50 kW to 2 motors with a combined power of 340 kW and 286 kWh of battery capacity. Depending on the propulsion system, it may attain a high speed of anywhere between 13 and 20 knots and cruising speed between 6 and 8 knots. However, you should prepare for some sticker shock since the price begins at €2.4 million, around $2.78 million.

If you don't know how much luxury yachts cost, let me give you an example: for $1.98 million, you can buy an identical diesel-powered boat that is 19.8 meters long and has the model number HELIOTROPE 65.

In addition, SILENT-YACHT has a bigger variant known as the SILENT 80, which is equipped with solar panels capable of producing 26 kW of electricity. The catamaran can go around 100 nautical miles without using any gasoline while maintaining a cruising speed of 6-7 knots. Additionally, since the solar array is constantly recharging the batteries, the catamaran has a nearly endless range. In addition, each boat owned by SILENT is outfitted with a diesel generator as a backup system. The asking price is around €5.4 million, which is equivalent to approximately $6.26 million. Again, as a point of reference, a comparable model that runs on fossil fuels and was manufactured by Fairline is presently available for purchase at the reasonable price of $1.95 million.

When it comes to the operation and maintenance of traditional diesel-powered boats, research compiled by Towergate Insurance, a broker located in the United Kingdom, reveals that owners need to spend at least 10% of the amount they initially spent on the yacht each year. Therefore, the upkeep and operation of a boat worth $2 million will set you back at least $200,000. Suppose electricity is needed to recharge the batteries. In that case, the current cost of electricity in the United States is approximately $0.10 per kWh, and in some ports around the world, using charging stations is completely free of charge. In contrast, the price of diesel in the United States is currently $0.96 per liter. Solar panels can be used to recharge the batteries at no cost. Also, an electric powertrain only has a few moving parts, while an internal combustion engine has hundreds. This means that maintenance costs for an electric powertrain are much lower than for an internal combustion engine.

The Singapore-based company Azura Marine is expanding its product offerings beyond the realm of luxury yachts to include ferries, boats, and plastic collectors. Ferries are a highly frequented mode of transportation in India, and Azura offers three different versions, each of which varies in the number of passengers it can accommodate, its length, and its power capacity. The E-Ferry 45 is the largest variant, and it has the capacity to carry between 35 and 50 people. It has an overall length of 12.5 meters and is powered by a combination of two motors with a combined output of 20 kW and a battery bank with a capacity of 60 kWh. The top speed is between 9 and 10 knots, but while cruising at 4 mph, the range is almost limitless.

The catamaran ferry ADITYA is 20 meters in length

In order to delve into some specific advantages, we may have a look at another firm that is working on solar ferries, called Navalt. They constructed India's very first solar ferry. The catamaran ferry ADITYA is 20 meters in length and has a capacity of seventy-five people. Two 20-kilowatt engines propel it, and its electricity comes from a 20-kilowatt photovoltaic array. This boat has averted the emission of 330 tons of carbon dioxide and saved 130,000 gallons of fuel over the course of four years. The price of ADITYA is 1.95 crore, which is equal to $260,894 dollars. A diesel ferry with comparable features would cost around 1.5 crores of rupees ($200,687).

When it comes to upkeep, a diesel-powered yacht of comparable size would need to have its engine overhauled in addition to having oil and filters changed. An investigation carried out by Navalt revealed that an ADITYA model with a diesel engine used 2,102,429 rupees worth of fuel in its first year of operation, although the ADITYA itself used just 62,235 rupees worth of grid power. The cost of keeping the diesel ferry operational for 365 days in a year was 210,243 yen, which is equivalent to $2,823 USD. In contrast, there are no costs associated with maintaining the solar ferry until the time comes to replace the batteries (about seven years since the ADITYA started its operation). At the current price, the cost of replacing the cells in the batteries is estimated to be $2,500,000, which is equivalent to $33,573. When calculated over a period of 20 years, the total cost of ownership (TCO) of an ADITYA comes to a total of 27,440,000 ($368,497). On the other hand, the TCO for its diesel brother is 91,470,000 yen, which is equivalent to $1,228,369, making it about three times more expensive.

The market for solar-powered ferries and yachts is poised for significant expansion over the next several years as a result of falling material prices and government incentives encouraging the electrification of vessels. For instance, luxury choices, such as yachts are still out of reach for most people, and we may see a greater initial cost compared to the diesel siblings of these luxury options. However, when we examine solar ferry boats like the ADITYA, solar and battery-powered boats turn out to be great in terms of cost and benefits. This is because they will transport hundreds or thousands of people each day, which means they will need to accommodate a large number of passengers. But even though the cost of solar panels and batteries keeps going down, there is still a long way to go before solar energy is widely used in maritime settings.

You May Also Like

Solar Panel Efficiency Breakthroughs: All You Need To Know

Top 4 Benefits Of Installing Solar Panels On Your Home

8 Things to Know About Home Wind Turbines

Five Reasons Home Solar Is a No Brainer

Are Solar Panels Worth It? (Professional Guide)

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.