Boats, ferries and ships have served as transportation since the earliest times. There is historical evidence of the boats playing an important role in the trading between Indus Valley civilization and Mesopotamia. Human-powered boats, sailboats and motor boats are used today for tourism and fishing. Water taxis are used for public or private transport to avoid road traffic congestion or to connect people living in islands that have no access to road transport.
Solar powered boats
The water transportation industry in India has been adopting renewable energy and solar energy has become a preferred option in the recent years. India’s first sun-powered ferry, ‘Aditya,’ gained global recognition when it won Gustave Trouve Award for Excellence in Electric Boats and Boating. This low-cost commuter ferry is redefining water transportation in India and is the first one of its kind to run solely on solar energy. The Water Transport Department of the Government of Kerala has assured that ‘Aditya’ offers the same performance and safety standards at less than half the cost of their electric counterparts.
Solar boats are considered significantly better than the conventional ones since there is no air or water pollution involved. Solar panels and storage batteries are used to convert solar energy into electrical power which is used to power the ferry. They do not emit the smell of diesel or petrol and produce very less vibrations comparatively. Although the initial investment is high, the operating cost is low when construction cost per passenger is taken into account.
The backwaters of Kerala are a system of canals incorporating rivers, lagoons and lakes and are well known as one of the most serene and peaceful tourist attractions. Thatched barges or ‘kettu vallams’ used for spice trade originally have now been transformed into house boats to carry tourists. These house boats are well furnished with bedrooms and lounge with refrigerators, television and air conditioning. Powering houseboats with solar energy can help in making huge savings on fuel, which can help both the boat owners and the commuters financially.
When compared to the power produced by a diesel-run generator, solar-powered boats are more affordable and function without producing any excess sound. The solar energy stored can be used to charge devices like mobile phones and laptops while sailing. Solar boats can generate power not only on sunny days but even on partly cloudy days. The solar panels and other components of a solar system are designed to withstand rain and other harsh weather.
Boating in the dark is hard and challenging. Unlike highways where the streets are illuminated with lights, marked with fluorescent reflective signage and designated lane ways, waterways are unlit and cluttered with ever-changing hazards such as waterway traffic and other obstacles like logs or debris. Also, the shore lights reflecting on the surface of the water can be confusing and misunderstood for the lights shining from other boats.
Since the visibility is less at night, boaters should take additional care when operating during periods of restricted visibility such as fog, darkness, or heavy rain. Keeping in mind the dangers of night-time navigation, every boat must be equipped with sufficient lighting to avoid risk of collision along with emergency flashlight aboard.
Power-driven boats and many small boats typically have masthead light, sidelights and a stern lights; however, boats that are propelled using paddles or by wind or gasoline are not equipped with the same type of lights which makes it hard for them to see at night. In order to embrace clean environment and sustainable energy, eco-friendly passenger ferries and solar-powered boats are introduced that harness solar energy as part of moving towards sustainability.
Different types of solar garden lights can be mounted on the ferries and boats to provide a decorative illumination during the night hours. Solar flood light can be fixed at the sterns and decks of boats as they offer illumination in a broad-beamed angle to have a clear view of the path ahead and these lights can be controlled using remote. Solar street lights can be installed on pier or dock to ensure good visibility for approaching boats. Solar emergency lights, torches and spotlights that are portable and lightweight can be kept on board for the usage of staff and passengers.
The installation of these lights is very simple and they do not require any type of manual intervention after they are fixed. These lights switch on and off automatically and if placed at those sections of the boat where maximum sunlight falls on the panels, the solar batteries can have enough backup for the lights to shine throughout the night. As the solar lights are not connected with wires, they can be reinstalled easily from one place to another.
Future of water transportation
As fossil fuels began to reduce with the progression of technology, the environmentally-concerned scientists and researchers started looking for alternative ways to generate energy. People and authorities all over the world are becoming more aware about the benefits of solar energy and the life-giving properties of the sun were always discussed throughout the history. There are multiple solar light designs to suit everyone’s needs and the advancements in technology have led to less expensive and more efficient solar panels.
Transport industry consumes a lot of fossil fuels for power, which generates high levels of air pollution and mitigating climate change must be the most important factor to be considered while designing future transport systems. For a cleaner and cheaper water transport, solar-powered water vehicles are the finest choice as they do not have the air pollutant and heat-trapping carbon emission characteristics of diesel engines.
Solar powered e-boats made news when they were launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Varanasi recently. Authorities in the Indian state of West Bengal and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal are now planning to include solar-powered ferries to their waters. Exploring the feasibility of bringing solar-powered ferries into our rivers could be a big step towards the country’s green revolution.