One of the most energy intensive and costly efforts is the shipping of goods around the world. However, shipping remains the tried and true method that supports the vast majority of global trade.
In efforts to reduce costs, some shipping companies are turning to alternative energy. One key advantage the shippers have in adopting such technologies is that most shipping companies have some capital, which they can use to cover the upfront costs in exchange for long term savings.
Shipping companies have already had success with wind power. In Germany, a windsail company, developed a sail which cuts fuel costs by as much as $1,500/day, recouping the investment on the sail in as little as 3.5 years. Now Japanese companies are turning to solar to provide similar benefits.
Japan's biggest shipping corporation, Nippon Yusen KK, announced plans to spend a modest 150 million yen ($1.37 million USD) to have Nippon Oil Corp develop a solar panel system for its ships. The solar panel system, when finished will have 328 panels and will have an installed power capacity of 40 kilowatts (an average home panel system produces 3.5 kw).
The 60,000 ton carriers, big enough to carry 6,400 Toyota automobiles, will initially receive approximately 0.2 percent of their total energy from the solar panels. Initially the energy will go exclusively to onboard electrical systems like lighting in the crew quarters. These systems are typically powered by onboard fuel based generators. By 2010, they hope to have a second ship with an installed system that raises this capacity to 1 or 2 percent, at a similar cost.
Officials with Nippon Yusen say the installation presents unique challenges. They state, "Conditions are very different from land transport due to the risk of (the system) getting wet with sea water or being subjected to constant shaking."
To complete some simple economic estimates on the savings provided by the project, it’s useful to look at the document windsail runs. In tests, the 10,000 ton Beluga Skysail ship typically consumed $7,500/day in fuel costs without the sail and with the sail got 20 percent of its energy from the skysail, saving it $1,500/day. A 60,000 ton freighter like the Nippon Yusen freighters could thus reasonably be estimated to have around $45,000/day in fuel costs. Thus the solar system, in its current state could save the shipper about $90/day.
Assuming continuous operation this would be about $32,000/yr., which means that the project would take 42 years to recoup its profits, well beyond how long the panels can be expected to last. Still, if the company can achieve its goal of 2 percent savings, that would be a $900/day savings, cutting the number of years to about 4 years to recoup, a much more reasonable scenario.
Obviously this tech has a ways to go to reach profitability, but it’s headed in the right direction. In the meantime, Hideyuki Dohi, general manager at Nippon Oil’s energy system development department says the new panels will release the ships carbon dioxide output by as much as 2 percent, equal to 20 tons a year. This will help Nippon Yusen reach its goals of cutting emissions and fuel consumption each in half by 2010.
Nippon Oil Executive Vice President Ikutoshi Matsumura made it clear that once the more efficient version of the system was developed, Nippon Oil and Nippon Yusen plan for a full scale deployment. He states, "If it’s possible, we want to aim for the full commercialization of the system in the next three to five years."