Clean Tech

Ferrying with sunshine as your guide

V. Sajeev Kumar | Updated on January 16, 2018

A clean alternative to navigate the waterways in God's Own Country

This month the calm waterways of Kerala are likely to be dotted with solar powered ferries, benefitting passengers in more ways than one. Apart from being pollution free, they will be cost effective too.

Aditya -- the country’s first and largest solar powered passenger ferry for inland water transport – recently underwent a trial run in the State, kick starting a new and path-breaking initiative to use clean energy for daily transportation. It is likely to start operations between Vaikom and Thavanakadavu in Alappuzha district stretching about 2.5 km

Leading the trial run, A.K.Saseendran, the State Transport Minister said Kerala has earned the unique distinction of introducing the nation’s first and largest solar powered passenger ferry for inland water transport. This would mark the beginning of a paradigm shift from diesel ferries towards a more economic and eco-friendly solar transport system through the water bodies.

The State plans to introduce 50 such solar ferries and a proposal to manufacture the boats is under the active consideration of theUnion Ministry of New and Renewable Energy.

Sandith Thandassery, the 38-year old naval architect and the founder of NavAlt Solar and Electrical Boats has built the ferry for Kerala State Water Transport Department in partnership with French company AltEn. With a construction cost of around ₹2 crore, the 75-seater solar boat made of fiberglass is 20 metre long and 7 metre wide with a cruising speed of 7.5 knots.

Referring to the technical aspects of the ferry, he told Business Line that the solar panels are accommodated on the roof and the boat is exceptionally noiseless, offers comfortable travel, free from vibrations. Apart from using clean energy, solar boats are significantly better than conventional counterparts since they do not release harmful emissions or pollute the water.

The boat construction is complete and was tested by the technical committee of the Indian Register of Shipping. It is remotely monitored and trouble shooting can also be done remotely. All the operating parameters of the boat are recorded and transmitted to the server of the company from where the technical experts can monitor the boat. The upgrades and settings in the software can also be conducted remotely, making the boat that much safer.

The structural design, hydrodynamics of hull and battery management holds the key to commercially successful large solar boats. The lithium battery and motor console are from France and the boat is capable of plying five to six hours continuously. The ferry can be put to use for longer distance transport using batteries that are more powerful. The ferry adopts a 15 years’ time tested technology in use in France.

Though the initial construction cost is high, he said the operating cost compared to conventional ferries is much lower. Normally, the diesel consumption of ordinary boats was 120 litres per day that translates into ₹7200 per day whereas the operating cost of solar ferry is ₹400 per day to charge 40 units of electricity per day.With a break-even period of three years and thereafter annual running cost of ₹1.30 lakh, there will be no reason to even consider diesel ferries in the future.

Kochi Metro Rail Ltd and several state governments have evinced interest in constructing solar panel boats to meet passenger transportation requirements. However, all these clients are awaiting the commercial operation of the ferry in Kerala, he adds.

According to S.Jeevan, secretary of Composite Boat Builders Association of Kerala, the construction of a solar ferry is a great initiative considering the limited resource of fossil fuels. The future will evolve to hybrids and pure electrics. While solar power on a boat has its limitations as there is only a limited area on the boat roof to harness the sun, this could be overcome by having a strategically located solar farm connected to the grid and the vessel could draw from the grid wherever it is moored. Considering the status of the infrastructure available in the country, he said a solar electric diesel hybrid would be an ideal option.

Published on December 06, 2016

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