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In Kochi, Kerala, boatbuilding company Navalt, in collaboration with Shell Foundation UK, has been experimenting with ideas for small solar fishing vessels. Having already tasted success with its Aditya solar-powered taxi ferries in Kerala, Navalt is hoping to come up with boats that will provide a sustainable alternative to the current ones that run on petrol and kerosene guzzling outboard engines

“A conventional three-foot fishing boat uses 3,600 litres of petrol or diesel when it is operated for five hours daily for 240 days in a year. With nearly two-and-a-half lake boats in operation, approximately one million litres of fuel is consumed, leading to carbon dioxide emissions of two million tonnes per boat per year,” says Navalt CEO Sandith Thandaserry.

“We are focussing on clusters of fishermen in Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, where at least four million people are engaged in short distance fishing. The inadequate size of the catch doesn’t justify the high operational costs of these boats. Solar power is among the best clean energy options for them,” he adds.

Solar energy projects have become a means of empowerment among rural and remote communities, especially those that have never been on the conventional electricity grid.

Statistics published by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy indicate that with about 300 sunny days in a year, India’s land area can be used to generate around 5,000 trillion kilowatt-hours (kWh) annually. According to International Energy Agency’s Renewables 2020 report, the country has the world’s fifth-largest installed solar power capacity, with 38 gigawatts (GW) in 2019, and production of 54 kWh of electricity.

Removing fossil fuels from the picture is one of the ways to signal traditional professions like fishing to a more environment-friendly way of operation. While a traditional ferry boat’s fuel costs come up to ₹30 lakh, for a solar boat, it is just less than ₹1 lakh per year.

“We want to see if we can achieve the same thing in the fishing sector. We are currently working on six models, (three each) of mono-hull and catamaran boats that are being tested out by fishermen in coastal districts. If they can be convinced about the initial higher cost of a solar boat that will eventually pay for itself after a few years, then we can hope to make our target price of under ₹10lakh,” elaborates Thandaserry.

The Navalt prototypes use materials like aluminium and glass-reinforced plastic (GRP) and have flexible solar panels for stability, an electrical steering unit, and twin outboard motors. The models also have assisted wind power devices for night use.

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