Unlike conventional ferries, which use diesel engines and occasionally petrol Out Boat Motors (OBM), a solar ferry uses electrical propulsion powered by energy from the sun (most of the time) and stored energy from the grid (backup in cloudy and rainy conditions).
Apart from using clean energy, solar boats are significantly better than their conventional counterparts since they do not pollute water, do not release harmful emissions into the air, are very silent and comfortable for passengers, have low vibrations, do not emit the smell of diesel or petrol, and have a lower cost of ownership. The initial cost is high, but the operating cost is low. In fact, once built, this will be the world’s cheapest solar-powered boat, according to construction cost per passenger.
While the solar ferry costs INR 17 million (about USD 250,000) to construct, an ordinary boat with the same safety standards and amenities would cost INR 15 million. Additionally, the cost of diesel for operating a conventional boat is around INR 3 million.
The solar ferry, adds Sandith, CEO of Navalt, “will prove that we can avoid all the problems of a conventional ferry and make it cheaper.” It will be attractive in all locations where passenger water transport exists. Furthermore, it will open up new locations where diesel boats cannot run because of noise and pollution, like a dam site, ecologically sensitive areas, drinking water sources, and so on.
Apart from Kerala, other state governments have also shown an interest in using solar for their water tourism industry. Navalt, the only company manufacturing solar boats in India, has already made a 20-seater solar-powered boat for a tourism operator in Bhatinda, Punjab. Sandith says they are also in talks with the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC). In West Bengal, the State Transport Department “has already visited our client to get details on a similar project.”
He is hopeful that most states will soon initiate such projects. Even houseboats could be solar-powered if their conventional shape is tweaked to make the boat lighter and accommodate solar panels, suggests Sandith.