Wind power has been around, literally, for ever, but its application to modern commercial vessels runs into age-old prejudices.
“The same misconceptions about commercial wind propulsion solutions keep coming around. Many of these are rooted in old appraisals of technologies used decades ago or in perceptions of stepping backwards; however, the wave of technologies and projects coming through now are firmly focused on a modern, decarbonised fleet fit for purpose in the 21st century,” said Gavin Allwright, secretary general of the International Windship Association (IWSA) at this year's SMM event.
Mr Allwright is at SMM in support of the five IWSA members that are exhibiting at the event: Norsepower; Bound4Blue; MARIN; MariGreen/MARIKO; and Peace Boat - Ecoship.
Norsepower chief technical officer Jarkko Väinämö said, “Our Rotor Sails are a modernised version of the Flettner rotor, which was invented almost 100 years ago. We have implemented high-tech materials and state-of-the-art automation technology for developing a reliable, efficient and economically feasible Rotor Sail design.”
Another concern with wind, according to Mr Allwright, is that the new rigs and rotors are untried and untested. However, Mr Allwright said, “Over the last couple of years we have seen extensive R&D work, certification of designs by class, and an increasing number of both prototypes and installations of rigs on vessels, all generating substantial data on performance and viability and this is set to continue over the next 12 months.”
MARIN senior project manager Rogier Eggers added, “We can assist to verify and improve performance, together with operators, owners, yards, designers and wind-propulsion suppliers.”
A number of companies at SMM 2018 are showcasing their prototype installations, which include a ground-breaking retractable wingsail designed by the Spanish company Bound4Blue to be retrofitted to two vessels over the next few months. The results from MariGreen’s EcoFlettner sea trials on the Fehn Pollux earlier this year are also being discussed.
Another key pressure point is that wind propulsion is perceived as only suitable for small vessels. But Mr Allwright disagrees: “This is a common refrain and wholly inaccurate; yes wind propulsion systems work very well on smaller vessels and there should be much more development in the fishing, general cargo and small-ferry sectors; however, there are wind propulsion solutions for all sizes and types of vessels, and in part that is the reason that different systems are being developed, as one size does not fit all.”
Crewing is also seen as an issue, which was true on the old Windjammers, that relied on manpower. Some of the smaller, more traditional sailing rigs do need more sailing knowledge and crew, however most modern commercial wind propulsion systems are automated, turn-key solutions, optimised through weather analysis, routing and other operational parameters.
Finally, Mr Allwright dismisses the notion that the technology is inherently costly, noting that the costs of manufacture and installation will come down as more rigs are installed. And fuel prices are again on the rise, making these systems more attractive, while compliance and future proofing of vessels is also a key advantage.
Mr Allwright concluded, “If a leasing or rental agreement is used, then capex outlay will be substantially reduced, with the provider and shipowner sharing the savings in fuel costs. Wind propulsion also reduces the amount of bunkering and fuel storage required for a vessel, thus reducing costs associated with other alternative, low carbon fuels too, making those more cost efficient into the bargain.”