Vaikom, the land of Satyagraha is situated in the northwest of Kottayam district in Kerala created history again on 12th January 2017. The first solar-powered ferry in India named as Aditya started service between Vaikom and Thavanakkadavu, connecting Kottayam and Alappuzha districts. This Solar powered boat was built with the financial aid in the form of subsidy from the Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy by the Kerala State Water Transport Department. The solar powered boat can perform journey for 5-6 hours on normal sunny days and the project is really a boon for the state like Kerala which uses the water transport effectively throughout the state.
During early 20th Century (between 1925 – 1930), Vaikom was in limelight for being the venue of Satyagraha aimed at securing free movement for all sections of the society through the public roads leading to Vaikom Temple. It was a great social revolution in Kerala History. The Vaikom boat jetty, which was used by the father of Nation Mahatma Gandhi to reach Vaikom for the Satyagraha on 9th March 1925, recently witnessed the inauguration of India’s first solar powered ferry by Chief Minister of Kerala, Shri Pinarayi Vijayan and Shri. Piyush Goyal, MoS (IC) for Power, Coal and New & Renewable Energy. The successful launching of pollution free solar powered ferry is a land mark occasion in India’s journey towards the use of solar energy. It also showcases our efforts to create a better planet by relaying on clean energy.
Aditya is also the largest solar-powered boat in India with 75 seats capacity. This vessel was designed by Kerala based engineer Sandith Thandasherry, who is also the Managing Director of a private firm involved in solar energy field. The core technology and expertise for design and development of the boat was provided by a French firm. The ferry was built at Thavanakkadavu unit of Navgathi Marine Design and Constructions, based in Kochi, India.
The Ferry is 20 Meter long and 3.7 Meter height with a 7 Meter beam. Another significant feature is that the ferry is manufactured out of fiber glass instead of wood or steal. 78 Solar panels are fixed on the roof of the boat and it produces solar power and the electricity produced from the solar panel connected with two electric motors of 20kW, one in each hull. The boat have also fixed with 700 kg of lithium-ion batteries in the two hulls which can store a total capacity of 50 kWh. The design of the hull shaped in such a way which keeps the boat reach speeds up to 7.5 knots/hr. This was verified by the Technical committee of Govt. of India, Register of Shipping surveyor and Kerala Port surveyor. The normal operating speed is 5.5 knots (10 km/h) to cover a 15 minutes travel time between Vaikom and Thavanakkadavu, a distance of 2.5 km on water. For achieving this speed, about 16 kW power is needed.
Another major feature is that it cruises with minimal vibration compared to normal diesel ferries. It works out to be a cheaper option too. The ferry also maintains safety standards as per the norms stipulated by the Department of Shipping, Govt. of India and is very safe for operating anywhere in Kerala. This assumes significance as the state is moving to more water oriented transport system. Compared to a conventional boat powered by diesel with same functional features and safety standards which costs Rs. 1.58 crore, the solar ferry costs Rs. 2.53 crore. An ordinary boat, made of steel and with a carrying capacity of 75 passengers, may cost around Rs.1.9 crore. An efficient conventional boat consumes 120 litres oil per day (12 litres per hour), or 3,500 litres per month and 42,000 litres per year of diesel. This amounts to Rs. 26.55 Lakhs for diesel (@ Rs. 63.32/litre) and total operating costs including lube oil and other maintenance costs amounts to Rs. 30.37 Lakhs per year. While the operating cost of solar ferry is 40 units of electricity or Rs. 422.13 per day which amounts to 12,596 per month and 1.5 Lakhs per year. Solar powered ferries make no noise or cause any pollution, unlike the diesel powered ones.
Conventional ferries releases huge amount of CO2 into the atmosphere which has always posed a threat to ecosystem. Also the oil spill is harmful to aquatic ecosystem and to the water body. But solar ferry boats neither create pollution in atmosphere nor aquatic environment. Inland water transportation is considered as the most efficient, economic and environment friendly means of transportation in Kerala. Inland water navigation system is the integral part of transportation in Kerala and is the cheapest means of transports. 41 out of 44 rivers in Kerala, several back waters, canals and lakes offer a good network of waterways within the state for traveling and transporting of goods. The backwaters of Kerala such as Ashtamudy and Vembanadu Lake provide a good means of inland navigation for journey and tourism sector.
The Government of India under the leadership of Prime Minister, Sri. Narendra Modi is very supportive of this green project. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has also agreed to sponsor the project considering the importance of the Green energy project which is a first of its kind in India. The benefit of sponsorship would mean that Kerala State Water Transport Department would get the boat almost free of cost from Govt. of India. At present Kerala State Water Transport Department has 49 boats which are made up of wood and steel. To reduce the operational cost of this wooden boat, department is recently exploring the possibility of manufacturing it out of steel and at a later stage by fiber glass. After the introduction of the first solar power boat, Kerala State Water Transport Department is in line of paradigm shift to deploy many more solar boats to meet the transport requirements of the state .