Interview (Sandith Thandasherry)

Sandith Thandasherry,
Founder & CEO at NavAlt Solar & Electrical Boats

“What kind of success has NavAlt seen so far?”

Since the inception of India’s first solar ferry in 2017, we could create buzz in the market. Indian maritime industry is now steaming with the idea of electric powered boats. River navigation department of Goa and Kochi Water Metro is following the success of Aditya “India’s First Solar Ferry”. Kerala Govt has decided in the recent budget to introduce more solar ferries and also to phase out all the conventional ferries with solar powered ones in another few years of time.

NavAlt built solar passenger boats, are recognized by Solar Impulse Foundation headquartered in Switzerland and International Solar Alliance as one of the efficient and sustainable proven solution in the world. We truly believe these international recognition would will open up the international market. <br />

“What kind of technology is used in these ferries?”

In solar boats the core technology is the propulsion power train that includes marine grade battery, motors and battery management system etc. Solar panels are only a commodity that supports the propulsion power train. Currently we are using poly crystallaine solar panels with more than 300 Wp energy in our solar boats. These are high-efficiency panels from Indian manufacturers.

“Is the ferry 100% run on clean energy?”

Yes, India’s first solar ferry “Aditya” completed its two years of operations travelling 39,0000 kms without a drop of fuel. 70% of energy requirement is catered from sun and remaining from grid charging.

“Why do we not see more of such solar ferries across India?”

Aditya is a successful technology demonstarter. It completed its two year operations travelling 39,0000 kms without a drop of fuel. As the idea of solar-propelled boat is new to India, we experienced a lot of reluctance. But after seeing the success, the Kerala government has ordered 3 more solar ferries of 75 and 100 pax capacities and has also announced the plan to phase out all conventional ferries with solar powered ferries. Other states such as Goa will also soon witness solar powered boats. Kochi metro has already floated a tender for 23 nos of 100 pax ferry which will be one of the world’s largest fleet of clean boats.

“What kind of challenges do you face in using solar as a fuel for ferries?”

Our ferries are designed to operate at 6 knots speed with 70% of operational requirements from solar energy.

When the speed is more than 6 knots the power requirement increases drastically and hence the solar power won’t be sufficient to power the vessel. In that case we need to have a hybrid ferry with a diesel gen-set on board to cater the higher power requirements.

“Would you expect any kind of special incentive from the government to further encourage solar ferries?”

The Indian Finance Minister has announced India will lead the energy revolution in the world with electric vehicles by 2030. We expect the government to intervene and help in promotion of the solar propelled boats as well:

Import duty exemption for marine grade batteries:

Major cost of the solar boat is marine grade lithium batteries which are being imported. Until the technology is developed in India, the government should provide exemption of import duty on marine grade lithium batteries.

Solar / electric boats to be added in FAME:

The government has included only electric vehicles in FAME policy, providing subsidy for these vehicles. Solar boats unlike the electric vehicles derive more than 75% of its energy from sun and only rest is taken from grid. This makes the solar boats much more low carbon in operations. So we request the Indian government to add solar boats to FAME scheme.

Reduce the Input GST:

The finance department is helping the shipbuilding industry with lower GST rate of 5% for boats. But at the same time, the input tax of the components and services for boat building is about 15% to 18% and takes away the benefits. The government should look into reducing tax rates which will be a big support for the boat building industry.

Financing options:

We urge the Finance Ministry to introduce schemes and support programs for easy financing for the purchase of solar boats just like vehicles on road. Banks should treat solar boat financing on priority or even consider this at par with automotive financing.

Special Fund / Shipbuilding subsidy:

The government is providing shipbuilding subsidy for vessels more than 24 meters length. We request to modify the subsidy policy as to support the solar boats. There should be additional subsidy to the vessel that is having solar powered propulsion. Even solar boats less than 24 meters and more than 10 meters should be given some subsidy.

“How do you foresee advancements in energy storage assisting solar ferries?”

Like every commercial electric-powered vehicles battery technology is one key factor in electric powered boats as well. The most used battery technology for electric vehicles is lithium batteries. Whereas we foresee Lithium Titanate Oxide (LTO) as the most used battery technology in solar powered ferries.

“What are the current financial calculations for a solar ferry and how do you foresee that changing with advancements in solar technology?”

Currently the solar powered ferries are almost 30% costlier than conventional diesel powered ferries. We expect that the cost of solar ferries to be equal or lesser than diesel ferries in the next 5 years with the reduction in battery cost. In the coming years, stakeholders will have a lot more confidence in the commercial viability of solar ferries and this will see an increase in the market share of solar ferries.

Interview 15/03/2019 by Moulin
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