Solar Powered Cargo Ship

Harnessing the sun in a big way

Solar-powered sails the size of a jumbo jet’s wings will be fitted to cargo ships, after a Sydney renewable energy company signed a deal with China’s biggest shipping line. The Chatswood-based Solar Sailor group has designed the sails, which can be retro-fitted to existing tankers.

The aluminum sails, 30 meters long and covered with photovoltaic panels, harness the wind to cut fuel costs by between 20 and 40 per cent, and use the sun to meet five per cent of a ship’s energy needs.

 Solar Powered Cargo Ship

China’s COSCO bulk carrier will fit the wings to a tanker ship and a bulker ship under a memorandum of understanding with the Australian company, which demonstrates the technology on a Sydney Harbor cruise boat.

“It’s hard to predict a time line but at some point in the future, I can see all ships using solar sails – it’s inevitable,” said the company’s chief executive, Dr Robert Dane.

Once fitted, the sails can pay for themselves in fuel savings within four years, Dr Dane said. They don’t require special training to operate, with a computer linked in to a ship’s existing navigation system, and sensors automatically angling the sails to catch a breeze and help vessels along.

The company is supported by NSW Government’s Australian Technology Showcase program.

“This is a breakthrough opportunity for Solar Sailor to play a leading role in the future of international shipping design during a period when rising fuel costs and environmental concerns have taken center stage,” said the NSW Minister for Primary Industry, Ian Macdonald.

“This is a case of back to the future – back to the days of sailing ships but to the future in terms of high technology solar and wind sails operated by computer rather than sailcloth and rigging manned by crew.”