Industry Insight: Wind and Solar Power Close to a Commercial Reality?

Tuesday November 4, 2014

"We won't see sails on oil tankers or container ships any time soon." That's what one delegate told Ship & Bunker earlier this year at the Connecticut Maritime Association (CMA)'s 2014 annual conference. And they certainly are not alone in that view.

But one person working hard to change all that is Greg Atkinson, Director at Japan's Eco Marine Power (EMP). The company is developing a number of sustainable shipping technologies that harnesses both wind and solar power, and over the last few years has been making steady progress towards a commercial system.

Earlier this year at Sea Japan 2014, EMP made the first public display of a number of its bunker saving technologies, a major focus of which was its Aquarius Eco Ship.

"The Aquarius Eco Ship is EMP's vision of how various renewable energy technologies can be combined via the Aquarius Marine Renewable Energy (MRE) System and then integrated into the design of a modern ship," EMP's Greg Atkinson told Ship & Bunker.

"The Aquarius Eco Ship is not science fiction nor are the technologies it incorporates just ideas.

"All of the major components of the Aquarius MRE System are either currently being tested in the Aquarius Innovation Lab in Osaka, Japan, or are commercially available such as the flexible marine grade solar panels and KEI 3240 computer system."

One of EMP's core technologies is the EnergySail, a rigid sail capable of using both wind and solar energy to help power a vessel. A vessel can be fitted with either one, or an array of EnergySails, and each EnergySail can be lowered and stored when not required or in bad weather.

The corresponding EnergySail Automated Control System (ACS) is used to automate the operation of an EnergySail or an array of EnergySails.

Earlier this year EMP announced the successful completion of initial tests of the technology.

"We are extremely pleased with the test results which have confirmed that we made the right design choices regarding the EnergySail and the devices that will be connected to it," Atkinson said at the time.

Also at Sea Japan 2014, EMP showcased the Aquarius Management & Automation System (MAS), a system for shipping which can monitor fuel consumption, calculate emissions, and manage renewable energy sources, as well as being expanded to include other functions such as alarm handling, engine performance logging and on-board systems monitoring.

Commercial Reality

The Aquarius MAS with a marine solar power array and energy storage has just been installed on the 2,400 passenger, 430 vehicle capacity ferry Blue Star Delos, and a joint evaluation trial will now be undertaken by Blue Star and Eco marine Power. This is effectively half of the overall Aquarius MRE System.

In May of this year EMP said it made a "major step forward" towards bringing its EnergySail system to market, having formed a strategic alliance with Japan-based marine equipment manufacturer Teramoto Iron Works Co. Ltd. (Teramoto Iron Works), a company who already has a history of making rigid marine sails.

The alliance has provided access to a production base and testing centre in Onomichi City, Hiroshima Prefecture, allowing for the production of the pre-commercial version of the EnergySail, which is due to commence within the next couple of months.

"Our alliance with Teramoto Iron Works moves us from testing in the lab to a position where we can deliver, along with our strategic partners, our EnergySail technology," says Atkinson.

"This is not a model, this will be a complete EnergySail designed for a large ocean going commercial ship made in co-operation with Teramoto Iron Works using their production facility in Onomichi City."

Should the subsequent sea trials prove successful, we might see sails on oil tankers and container ships in the near future after all.