Solar PV Power Solution for Coniston Ferries

Ferryboats are a fact of life on Coniston Water, so that means the diesel engines that power the boats are always present as well. Six years ago Gordon and Margaret Hall started looking for a way to reduce the effect that the boat engine emissions had on the Cumbria lakes region, and a few solar photovoltaic (PV) panels is the final hybrid solution. Gordon researched fuel cells and batteries too, but there was always something that didn’t quite fit the situation.

“The problem we were faced with was the battery power/weight ratio,” he said in an e-mail to explain the problem. “Each of our boats has a deadweight of about eight tons and uses the diesel equivalent of five gallons per day. In conventional battery terms this would mean some eight tons of battery, which would probably sink the boat!” The Halls established Coniston Launch in 1992 because, according to Gordon, the idea of setting up a small passenger boat operation appealed to them. Offering a boat service around the five-and-a-half mile lake appealed to their sense of conservation as well since a boat trip would probably be enough to convince motorists to abandon their cars for at least one day while on holiday at the lake. But the more they used the boats, M.L. Ruskin and M.L. Ransome, the more they realized that the diesel engines on board were just as much of a pollution problem. It was either better batteries or on board power generation, Gordon said. At one point the couple even had an agreement with a small hydrogen fuel cell research company. However, the National Park setting isn’t suited to establishing a safe place for hydrogen storage and the couple abandoned the hydrogen water way as well. Since there’s no room on a boat for a biomass furnace, the couple traveled to Lake Konstance in Germany to see how PV was used on the boats that are there. “It was clear that whilst solar power would help, even on a really fine day when we might get fourteen hours of good light and eight hours running we could only expect one-fifth of our power to come from solar panels. We have therefore had to accept the need for a diesel generator,” Gordon said. “The upside of this is that the diesel consumption would only be about one-third of the direct-drive unit.” PV offers an emissions reduction, and the Halls are willing to start with that. The final system that the boats will run on is a Solomon ST74 motor that is driven by power from a 160 AH battery bank. Batteries will be charged by an on-board diesel generator and solar panels, with additional charges generated at the shore mains supply. KOPF of Germany is supplying the solar panels which will be set in a type of glass canopy that will replace the existing awning on the boat. Individual cells will be set in flat panels, and the panels will be arranged in a curved aluminum structure. They will trickle charge the batteries with an automatic safety switch to prevent overcharging. Gordon is still working on the final specifications for the arrays. Conversions will begin on both boats this winter and the solar panels should get fitted sometime in February of 2005.
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