The trend towards using renewable and alternative energy sources on land has gathered momentum over the last decade as governments; companies and the general public tackle the issues of air pollution, energy security, and climate change. However, at sea, the shift towards the widespread adoption of alternative energy is only now beginning to take shape. Recently the shipping industry has begun to seriously look at ways to reduce fossil fuel consumption and operate in a more environmentally friendly way. The concepts of “Green Shipping”, “Green Logistics” and “Sustainable Shipping” are now important issues for ship owners, shipping lines and shipbuilders globally. Also, various regulations and initiatives are being implemented aimed at reducing emissions from the ship. Examples of these include Emission Control Areas (ECA’s) and a limit on the sulfur content in marine fuels.
Now at sea, as well as on land – the use of renewable energy is increasingly being seen as part of the energy mix. Wind and solar power, therefore, will most likely play an important role in helping to reduce fuel use and emissions from ships, especially as further renewable energy-related technologies are developed.
Marine Solar Power
Another way to reduce fuel consumption on-board ships is through the use of solar power. Recent advances in solar cell and photovoltaic (PV)module technologies have led to solar power becoming a cost-effective fuel reduction option on pleasure boats, ferries and tourist’s vessels. However, on large ships, the amount of fuel saved through the use of solar power alone is relatively small. So the idea of a commercially viable solar ship seems impractical at the moment..or is it?
Perhaps rather than having a ship with rigid sails or a ship with solar panels, a better approach would be to design a system that could tap into the power of the wind and sun together? The challenge in developing such a solution would entail dealing with many practical problems related to use sails and solar panels on large powered ships operating in the harsh marine environment.
This idea of combining the power of the wind and solar power is not new though, and in the 1990s a patent was granted in the United States for a solar-powered electric ship concept that incorporated a traditional soft sail fitted with photovoltaic cells.
Ideas and concepts that combine sails with solar power probably pre-date the 1990’s however to date, no combined wind power and solar power system that incorporates rigid sails has been deployed in large commercial ocean-going ships. But this situation is about to change.
Smart Shipping, Refresh Your Mind
A few months ago we wrote about the development of smart ships. Smart ships can be divided into two categories: unmanned ships and autonomous ships. The difference between these two categories is that unmanned vessels are ruled by an operator from a control center onshore. In contrast, autonomous ships use a computer on board that takes decisions about the route, speed, fuel consumption, maintenance and even mooring in the harbour. To make sure everything is under control, an autonomous ship is always connected to an onshore control center.
One Step Further: Electric Ships
Smart ships run without a crew on board and most of the time they operate with conventional propulsion systems that work with heavy fuel oil or diesel. But now the technology has taken it to the next level: electrics ships are coming up. These ships are driven by electricity instead of conventional fuels. It is comparable with the development of electric cars and the working principle is similar. Instead of diesel engines, electric ships contain batteries to keep the vessel going.
Why Electric Ships?
The development of electric ships is not without a reason. First, the use of electric-driven vessels has a positive effect on the environment. The fuel consumption of a ship decreases and oil-emission is reduced. Second, the space required for installation of electrical propulsion machinery is much less and is compact in comparison with conventional systems. This results in extra load space on a ship. And third, the life cycle costs are reduced due to less fuel consumption and lower maintenance costs.