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Why Goa desperately needs more solar-powered passenger ferry boats?

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PANAJI: While Kerala has been operating a solar-powered passenger ferry boat for some years now, Goa’s first electric-cum-solar hybrid ferry boat was launched in October this year and will be operational before the start of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Panaji this month, the office of the Captain of Ports (CoP) had said.

The Captain of Ports (CoP), Goa had set a 15-day deadline to start operations of the ferry service plying from the Panaji jetty to Chorao Island with a new state-of-the-art floating jetty. Testing is almost complete and services could start any day, the CoP said.

The Goa government plans to showcase the State’s first solar-powered ferry during the International Film Festival of India and said that for the first 15 days there would be no fee for passengers.

According to the CoP, the hybrid vessel which runs on both electric power via a battery which can be recharged by conventional electric power supply or solar power, has an operational speed of 12 knots and accommodates around 100 people with a seating capacity of 60 and standing capacity of 40 passengers.

However, during the initial trials and test runs the solar ferry is expected to operate at a lower capacity and only 70 to 80 persons may be allowed on the boat at a time, CoP sources said.

Solar-powered boats are energy-efficient and environment friendly eliminating the use of fossil fuels. They are quieter than diesel boats and while diesel boats can discharge oil and grease into the water due to leakage, solar-powered boats are much cleaner, resulting in far less pollution.

Solar-powered boats have reduced carbon emission, much lower carbon footprint, drastically reduce noise levels on the water and eliminate the cost of fuel altogether. While the initial cost of the boats is much higher, almost five times the cost of a diesel boat – a typical diesel ferry boat would cost Rs 80 to RS 90 lakh to build, while a similar capacity solar-powered boat costs nearly Rs 3 to 4 crore, there are huge savings over the years in the cost of diesel, not to forget the environmental benefits.

As cell, battery and motor technology advances, solar boats are far much cheaper over the years, less noisy because they do not have a generator and their motors are much quieter than diesel engines. They have much fewer moving parts and are cheaper to service and maintain over the years. The batteries keep charging even when the boats are not in operation and can be run (at 30-40 percent capacity) even on cloudy days.

At present the energy-efficient motors are imported, but when produced locally in bulk along with the solar panels will greatly reduce the initial costs of the boats.

As more and more states turn to solar-powered boats, with increasing numbers the initial cost will come down and as environment scientist Dr Bernad Thomas of the CPIE India (Centre for Promoting Indian Economy) suggests, in the next one to two years, the cost of a 80-seater solar-powered boat would be half of what it is today.

Goa desperately needs at least 10 more solar-powered ferries to start with, Dr Thomas opines. While the initial procurement cost is much higher, there are huge savings on diesel, oils and other consumables. Maintenance costs are much lower compared to diesel boats and the electric motors are much more reliable than diesel engines. Secondly the solar-boats have built in redundancy and employ at least two motors, which means even if one motor fails, the boat can still come to shore on its own power.

The environmental impact is huge as a solar boat has less than 5 to 8 per cent the carbon footprint of a diesel boat, Dr Thomas says, which means we are reducing by about 95 per cent the carbon emission when using a solar-powered boat.

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