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Solar-powered ferry boats to reduce pollution in Kerala’s backwaters


Solar-powered-ferry-boat-380The backwaters, a network of lakes, rivers and canals in Kerala, India, have been the lifeline of local rural communities. The tourism expansion in the last two decades has polluted the water normally used for cooking, drinking, washing, fishing and farming.
Houseboats, leisure boats and ferries for local people and goods have been a major polluter for waste left into the waters, emissions of carbon dioxide, noise, thus affecting thousands of people depending on the backwaters.
An experiment by the Kerala State Water Transport Department (KSWTD) proposed to use solar power instead of diesel as propulsion system. For this purpose, a 75-seater boat, the country’s first solar-powered ferry, has been created by NavAlt, a joint venture between French company AltEn and Indian firm, Navgathi. The vessel is currently being completed at Aroor shipyard in Alappuzha.
KSWTD director Shaji V Nair said they plan to deploy it in the 2.5 km-long Vaikkom-Thavanakkadavu route in Vembanad Lake in Kottayam district by mid-August. The KSWTD, currently operating 728 services, whishes to replace its entire fleet of 51 boats with solar-powered boats.
“The introduction of solar power in boats will be a breakthrough in the history of water transport in the state. Nearly 45 percent of the expense we incur is for fuel. Besides the money we save, we will also be contributing to the conservation of environment,” Shaji commented.
The Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy is providing a subsidy for using natural source of energy, which makes it easier to actually replace the traditional fleet with an entirely solar-powered one.
Houseboats dominating the backwaters could be solar-powered if lightweight enough and opportunely shaped to accommodate solar panels: applying solar panels to existing boats is not possible because of their heavy-material construction. The new solar-boats are made with aluminium or carbon-fiber.
The solar powered boat for KSWTD is equipped with two electric motors and a 20kWp solar module array that helps charge the lithium battery packs in the boat. The 20-metre long, 7-metre wide boat, with a maximum cruising speed of 7.5 knots, can run continuously for 6 1/2 hours on a normal sunny day.
The boat doesn’t release harmful or smelly emissions, it is silent, has low vibrations, and is easy to operate, as it is fitted with electronic systems.
Sandith hopes that the launch of the ferry boat in the state may encourage many boat operators to replace the conventional boats with solar-powered boats.