Renewable Energy to Sea …

For many, shipping is out of sight, out of mind. So much so, for example, that shipping emissions are not covered in the Kyoto agreement or other proposed carbon reduction treaties. Few people realize that carbon dioxide emissions from the shipping industry exceeds that from aviation.  As one UK Member of Parliament put it, Shipping

has got away with doing nothing and maintained a clean image which it does not deserve.

As per this GreenCarCongress reporting, shipping

  • Contributed about 2.7% of anthropogenic CO2 in 2000
  • The industries CO2 emissions could double by 2050
  • Marine NOx emissions “could exceed those of road traffic” in that same time period
    • Currently marine NOx emissions are about 15% of global anthorpogenic NOx emissions and 8% of sulphur
  • “Without action, the IMO predicts that by 2020, emissions from ships would increase up to 72%”

Shipping pollution … out of sight, out of mind. … It is not fully ignored, after all, for example, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has been working on the question of air pollution at sea.

The maritime sector (shipping) is, however, an example of a global, industrial capacity that represents a huge capital investment that can be modified, but modified over time. We won’t be able to replace every ship out there, all at the same time, and solve the problem.

There are several key paths toward achieving reduced emissions:

  • Reduced requirement/demand:  A potential exists — whether through domestic use of grains for biofuels rather than export or reduced oil imports — for reducing overall shipping requirements.  The reduced use, however, is a highly unlikely scenario outside of some major trigger (Peak Oil?) creating obstacles to international shipping.
  • Reduced fuel use/greater efficiency:  A wide range of paths exist for improving fuel efficiency, from ever better designs, better propellers, better maintained ships, reduced hotel (electrical) loads, etc … The major impact will come with new ships and new technologies, but existing ships can become more efficient.
  • Renewable fuels, such as marine biodiesel. (Note that, for example, The marine industry consumes about 10 percent of the petroleum diesel in the U.S.”) 
  • Renewable propulsion: The potential exists for a back-to-the-future use of wind power. For example,

Skysails seeks to adapt advances in kite design and understanding to the merchant marine (and luxury yacht) fleets.  As per Skysails founder, Stephan Wrage, I thought the enormous power in kites could somehow be utilised.”

The initial actual cargo ship, the 9,775 ton Beluga Skysails, should launch later this summer with a lot of testing gear to support more platforms in the coming years.  The claimed expectation is that the system should cut fuel costs by 10-15 percent.  The cost for that fuel efficiency, between $700,000-$3.5 million of capital investment.

 As per the Skysails site,

SkySails are wind propulsion systems for modern shipping. By using a SkySails system ship operation will become more profitable, safer and independent of declining oil reserves.


The planned product range contains towing kite propulsion systems with a nominal propulsion power of up to 5,000 kW (about 6,800 HP).  On annual average fuel costs can be lowered between 10-35% depending on actual wind conditions and actual time deployed. Under optimal wind conditions, fuel consumptions can temporarily be reduced up to 50%.


At the current oil price a SkySails propulsion creates approx. just 1/3 of the cost of a conventional ship diesel.

 And, well, this is not just for the merchant marine. They are seeking to satisfy the luxury market as well.

With SkySails there is no compromise regarding comfort: motor yachts provide spaciousness and speed while sailing yachts offer emission- and vibration-free enjoyment. Cruising at sea is significantly more comfortable on a sailing yacht, but this is achieved with a disturbing inclined position.


The fully automated SkySails-System combines the advantages of both worlds effortlessly: On a yacht fitted with a SkySails you can glide soundlessly in motor yacht comfort.

Greater comfort with reduced fossil fuel usage.

From over at Worldchanging, Jamais Cascio had this perspective on SkySails:

While there is something superficially absurd about massive cargo ships being pulled along by kites, upon reflection the notion makes sense. It’s a novel form of “hybrid” power, taking advantage of strengths of diverse propulsion systems: the consistency of diesel engines and the free availability and startling strength of wind power. While SkySails still needs to demonstrate that their system works as claimed, we will undoubtedly see more of these “situational hybrid” power generation systems in years to come.

Absurd … maybe not.  But, “situational hybrid” provides a good phrase for considering the mixing and matching of traditional engine and far more traditional sail for a 21st century solution to moving goods and people around the world.

But, truly, the question becomes, What would James say?  That cool little red yacht … if the Skysail could release so that he could fly away, definitely at least three jetpacks …


Now, 10-15% improvement won’t solve the maritime GHG contributions challenge … but it would represent a start at turning the situation around.


2 responses to “Renewable Energy to Sea …

  1. Without realizing it, this post was timelier than I thought … today’s Christian Monitor published Sooty vessels try to turn green: With pollution in ports a key contributor to US emissions, ferries and other harbor vessels look for new ways to operate.

    On its way to the Statue of Liberty, the Miss Freedom backs away from the pier with white smoke spewing from its twin smokestacks. Then, as the captain turns out to the harbor, yet more soot streams out of the stacks.

    But by the end of next year, the 3.5 million people who board the ferries annually to visit Lady Liberty may have another sight: a trimaran that can use the wind, turning on solar-charged electric motors when it’s at the dock. “What someone will see when the boat is at the pier is nothing – no soot, no white smoke, nothing,” says Robert Dane, CEO of Solar Sailor, the designer in Sydney, Australia.

    Cutting pollution on the waterfront is an important part of the effort to cut smog and greenhouse-gas emissions. According to New York City’s estimate, waterborne transportation represents 8 percent of its overall emissions. It’s far higher in California, where commercial oceangoing vessels are responsible for about 80 percent of emissions of sulfur oxides and almost 13 percent of the nitrogen oxides emitted by mobile sources in the state, according to estimates by the Air Resources Board.

  2. Pingback: Energy COOL: Sailing our way to a Smart Energy Future « Energy Smart

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