Thanks to the Kerala State Water Transport Department (KSWTD), the backwaters of Kochi will soon be home to India’s first solar powered ferry.
The ferry has been commissioned by KSWTD and has been designed and built by the start-up NavAlt Solar and Electric Boats.
In 2013, the Kerala government, on the look-out for alternative fuel options for their passenger ferries, came across a study that spoke about the benefits of renewable energy fuelled ferries. Buoyed by the possibility of a cheaper, more eco-friendly alternative to diesel, the Kerala Government announced its interest in exploring the option and invited tenders.
NavAlt, a joint collaboration between the French company AltEn and the Indian company, Navgathi was awarded the contract.
Sandith Thandasherry, CEO of NavAlt says that as a part of Navgathi, they had been using renewable energy to fuel boats for a couple of years. “After many experiments, we realised that application of renewable energy in marine passenger transportation would be the best. We also realised that ferries were the way to go.”
While the main propulsion package has been brought in from France, the rest of the boat has been constructed in NavAlt’s Kochi yard.
The plans for the construction of the ferry were set in motion a couple of years ago.
“Two years ago, we started with the initial discussions and the designs. We spent about a year fine-tuning it. And then the construction of the boat started a year ago,” says Sandith.
While the prototype took a year to build, Sandith is confident that in the future, the ferries will be constructed within a period of 6 months.
The 75-seater is 20 metres long and is equipped with two electric motors. A 20kWp solar module array helps charge the lithium battery packs.
Running as it does on solar and electricity, the ferry is every environmentalist’s dream come true. Agrees Sandith, “There is zero pollution in the air and the water.”
“From the perspective of the passengers, the vibrations are less, there is no noise, there is no smell of diesel,” says Sandith, “It is also made of higher technology, so the amenities and facilities provided in the boat are higher.”
The ferry is good not only for the environment, but for the coffers of the State Government as well.
Explains Sandith, “The cost of a normal boat comes up to about Rs. 1.5 crore and on this one, they would have spent about Rs. 2.2 crore. There is a Rs. 75 lakhs difference. In two and a half years, you recover the difference with what you save on diesel. Every year, the government can save Rs. 30 lakhs – even taking into account the grids for charging.”
The ferry – like all ferries – will also have a life cycle of 20 years.
Come July, the Kerala State Water Transport Department will use the ferries to transport commuters along the 2.5 km-long Vaikkom-Thavanakkadavu route.