The Need for Reliable Solar Power at Sea

In light of recent at-sea power failures on major cruise liners, smaller vessels are tuning into the need to ensure their own systems are dependable and won't strand crews and passengers at sea. Reliable and efficient power is vital on any size or type of boat or ship, but it's too often overlooked in efforts to keep costs down. Installing power redundancy and marine-grade power systems safeguards boaters from discomfort, danger and marred reputations that can result from on-board power outages.

Turning to just any power solution is insufficient; boaters and mariners aboard naval, rescue and luxury vessels rely on durable, water-resistant systems that provide power to ensure safe travels and diminished downtime. With rising diesel and gasoline prices, fuel efficiency has also become a priority, leading maritime organizations to turn to renewable or ultra-efficient energy sources, such as on-board solar power or smart inverter/chargers that are both effective and efficient at managing generators.

Green at Sea

Following a tsunami, hurricane or other catastrophic event, International Rescue Group volunteers provide support and humanitarian aid to affected areas. We enter an area on repurposed steel trawlers, and our volunteers deliver medical help, supplies, fresh water and food to disaster-hit communities. Because our mission is to provide coastal disaster relief while safeguarding the surrounding environment and reducing our use of diesel fuel while docked at shore, we needed a green power source to minimize the impact of our voyages.

Previously, International Rescue Group ran an on-board generator that required 30 gallons of diesel fuel per day. As part of our low-fuel-impact approach and to serve as an example of how to reduce the boating industry’s carbon footprint, we turned to green boating and elected to offset our power source with solar energy. By making this change, we reduced our environmental impact. We now channel solar power into the boat’s bank of 12 lead-acid deep-cycle batteries. With OutBack Power’s donation of charge controllers, not only can we harness solar energy, but we are also able to monitor system performance and efficiency to demonstrate our green, lean practices and operations. In addition, this helps with our fundraising purposes; we can show donors our self-sufficiency and sustainability.

OutBack Power’s charge controllers coupled with donated BenQ solar panels provide a dependable power system, as well as a greener footprint. Without the charge controller equipment, we would have useless solar panels and no way of converting the solar power into AC power or channeling the power into the ship’s batteries. However, since installing charge controllers on our flagship Thunderbird 2 boat, solar energy can power the boat’s electronic communications systems and the onboard water-making system, which desalinates ocean water and makes it potable through reverse osmosis. With solar energy, the system produces roughly 250 gallons of fresh water each day, which is enough to sustain a small seaside community of 1,000 survivors indefinitely in the wake of a disaster.

Greener power sources allow us to sail into coastal communities safely by burning less fuel and emitting fewer diesel fumes, which is uncomfortable and unhealthy for both our crews and those we serve. The welcomed reduction of the smell and loud noise emitted by our diesel engine while in ports was greatly appreciated by our crew and can be a competitive differentiator when recruiting volunteers. Generating solar power means we diminish our need for expensive diesel fuel. By choosing greener energy options, we cut our diesel fuel costs by $40,000 each year. This way, we can devote more funds toward feeding our volunteer crew and providing aid to affected communities.

Eventually, International Rescue Group’s goal is to add solar panels to our entire fleet of rescue boats and install a wind generator to the Thunderbird 2. As we acquire new boats, we aim to replicate our solar power success. Not only will we reduce our costs and carbon footprint, but we will also increase our crew’s safety and security by having a dependable power source for all of our boats, so we can voyage around the globe to provide help to those in need after any coastal emergency.

Lead image: Rescue vessel via Shutterstock

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