India’s first solar ferry is set to start operations in the backwaters of Alappuzha in Kerala, charting a new course in the maritime sector. In the last couple of years, the transportation industry in India has been adopting renewable energy in a big way. From airlines to railways, solar has become a preferred option. Now the waterways are taking to it as well. Solar powered e-boats on the Ganga in Varanasi, launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, made news recently.
India’s very first ferry powered by solar energy, to be deployed in the backwaters of Alappuzha by the Kerala State Water Transport Department (KSWTD), is another case in point. It will also be the country’s largest commercially operational, solar-powered mode of transport.
The 75-seater passenger ferry is being built by NavAlt, a Kochi-based joint venture firm, in collaboration with a French company at Aroor in Alappuzha district. Construction is almost complete. The battery and motor console, which have undergone testing, have been flown in from France. In all likelihood, it will hit the waters by the end of June.
Working on 40 kW propulsive power, the 20 metre by 7 metre ferry, with a maximum cruising speed of 7.5 knots, is capable of plying the waters for 5 to 6 hours on normal sunny days. It will have an alternative power system to meet emergencies and its battery will be charged by plugging on to the normal electric circuit at the end of the day’s journey. According to Sandith Thandasherry, the brain behind the innovation, it will be India’s largest boat equipped with lithium battery storage.
The KSWTD plans to operate the boat in the 2.5 km Vaikkom-Thavanakkadavu route. The crew will be trained to handle the boat, as the operating system is different from conventional diesel-powered ones. For Sandith, the idea to integrate solar energy in the marine sector began in 2009. It was in that year that the former IIT Madras graduate and his team began experimenting with pleasure boats. This won them a place in the Limca Book of Records for the fastest solar boat in India. However, there were odds as well, since some experiments, like the application in existing fishing boats, failed to materialize.
Finally, they realised that the best application of solar in boats is in passenger transportation. Since there were no solar ferries in India, this was an added challenge. Eventually, a joint venture with AltEn came about and the aim was to make a winning combination which had not only the technology, but also the expertise to build cost-effective solar ferries.
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