India’s first sea-going solar fishing boats will be ready by Dec 2021 at Vypeen and Munambam in Kerala. Funded by Shell Foundation, the charity arm of British-Dutch petroleum company, five boats are in various stages of development and the works are done by a startup named NavAlt Solar and Electric Boats.
CEO of NavAlt, Sandith Thandasherry said there are over 2.5 lakh small fishing boats in India and 1.13 tonnes of CO2 are released/tonne of live weight of marine fish netted. Shell Foundation is supporting the project with Rs 5 crore, which includes the cost of developing the boats as well as financing the buyers to cover the extra cost compared to a traditional boat.
NavAlt made headlines when it launched a solar water taxi and the country’s first solar ferry in Kerala. “As per estimates, a conventional small boat will consume 2,500 litres of fuel/year, which results in 5-6 tonnes of carbon emissions/year. Multiplied by 2.5 lakh boats in India, it gives the size of carbon emission, which is massive in terms of environmental impact,” he said.
Convincing fisher folk to switch to a new technology with which they are unfamiliar is a hurdle, he said. To understand the needs of the fishermen, Thandasherry went to Gujarat in 201X. “Right from there till West Bengal, traditional fishing boats are almost the same, with only minor design changes,” he said.
There, he converted a conventional 32-ft wooden boat by retrofitting solar panels and motor. “Functionally it worked, but economically it struggled because the drag of the conventional boat was too high,” he added. Hence, NavAlt went on to design a lighter boat.
“We had two designs – a single-hull one which could land on the beach and a double-hull one that could enter the sea from the lake where it is moored,” he said. On these boats, he fitted a modular energy box that could easily be unmounted and taken home to use as a power source.
While a conventional boat costs around Rs 2.5 lakh, NavAlt is planning to sell their solar ones at Rs 10 lakh. “We told Shell Foundation that if they could pay the difference of 7.5 lakh, the fisherman could pay back the sum as EMI, instead of the fuel bills. So, from day one onwards, they will have a better livelihood,” Thandasherry said, adding that net income of a typical boat owner is low because of fuel bills that come to Rs 2.5 lakh a year.
NavAlt also wanted funds from Shell Foundation to scale up the project so that the boat’s cost could be brought down to Rs 10 lakh, from the manufacturing cost of Rs 25 lakh. “We will reach the Rs 10-lakh price level by the 100th boat. Till then we will be losing money on each boats we sell. So, we needed a gap funding of Rs 3.5 crore from Shell, which they agreed,” he said, adding that Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh are interested in the project.
Meanwhile, NavAlt is also engaged in the development of electric motors for boats. “They cost Rs 4 lakh each, which we are trying to bring down to Rs 1 lakh,” he said.