Gallery: World’s First Cargo Ship Propelled by Solar Panels

green shipping, solar cargo ship, auriga leader, port of long beach, toyota, nyk

These days, it seems everything from rooftops to cell phones come equipped with solar panels. Now, huge cargo ships are the latest entities to join the solar power fray. The M/V Auriga Leader, now docked at the Port of Long Beach in California, recently unveiled an impressive array of 328 solar panels that will power the ship’s main electrical grid, making this the first ocean liner to be propelled in part by the sun’s rays.

The ship’s new solar array is part of a demonstration project organized by the Port of Long Beach, Toyota and Tokyo-based shipping company, NYK Line. The project aims to reduce ships’ dependence on diesel, a dirty fuel that releases significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions even while crafts are docked and unloading cargo at port.

While other ships have used solar panels before to power small electronics like auxiliary lights, the Auriga Leader is the first craft to direct solar power into the ship’s main electrical grid. Energy from 328 panels is helping to power the ship’s thrusters, hydraulics and steering gear, providing about 10 percent of the ship’s total electricity usage.

Though 10 percent may seem a bit paltry, cargo ships suck up huge amounts of power. A boat the size of the Auriga Leader needs about 400 kilowatts of energy while at port, while a larger vessel like an oil supertanker needs about eight megawatts (enough juice to power 5,500 homes!) to pump its cargo of oil off the ship.

The shipping business is extremely toxic to both the earth and human health because of its massive amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and harmful soot and particulate pollution. So while 328 panels on the Auriga Leader may be a small step, it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

+ Port of Long Beach

Via LA Times


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  1. Sagar Tanksali June 2, 2015 at 1:28 am

    It’s not 10%. It’s actually 1%. That’s what’s NYK’s website says. Also, a RoRo of that size would need about 2MW to run. 40KW installed capacity (let’s say 20KW of actual generation) would indeed be 1% of that requirement.

  2. SubVet769 September 15, 2014 at 10:16 am

    I believe if you can utilize most forms of sustainable energy creation and harvesting with todays tech on a supply ship. Look at the very top of the ship! It’s flat and all the real magic happens below decks. You might have to design a sligtly larger ship per say to house all the batteries needed and generators for telescoping wind turbines located at various strong hull rib points that coincide with each other. They can go up and down like periscopes but dont disrupt the supply movement below. Also besides the solar that is flat you can telescope satellite panels that are tucked away between the deck and hull inside port and starboard protectively up into solar sails that track the suns movement mechanically and digitally. Finally, still being propelled by conventional means design a sub-hall on bottom of keel that acts like multiple jet ski bottoms housing hydro generators. In my mind they would look like small mini paper mill hydro wheels that protrude very little and not enough to disrupt the flow inward flow of water which would create to much captivation and resistance. If all can be utilized with out disrupting supply workflow it can be done. I say add two more small decks one at bottom one at top. These will house the batteries and generators to be serviceable. Also the top can be for life support systems bottom for a backup battery charge for disel battery supporting propulsion means.

  3. Andrew Hvatum May 25, 2014 at 10:52 pm

    Nuclear powered cargo ship would actually do something to reduce emissions. This is just greenwashing.

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  5. Save-world February 11, 2010 at 11:04 am

    good to see some people are tackling the problem of boat emission, which is largely underestimated nowadays.

    I wonder, why don’t we fit boats with retractable sails masts? surely this would save a lot of oil, no?

  6. Sell cars by Owner January 14, 2010 at 10:33 am

    I really think that such ships on solar batteries are our future. They help to save HUGE ammount of energy, which is really great!

  7. mamun2a July 27, 2009 at 12:52 am

    confusing news. but there is hope for running ship without Fossil Fuel.
    good luck. -mamun2a, Dhaka, BD

  8. frado July 21, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    “Propelled by solar” is a very misleading title.

    It’s all diesel pushing the ship forward, evidenced by the blue smoke plumes.

  9. izit July 13, 2009 at 4:01 am

    Sailors have been using traditional solar panels on boats for decades now, with more exposure to salt water than they’ll ever get on top of a cargo ship. Keep in mind that well-tempered solar panels from the 1970’s have withstood hail & hurricanes, and most work fine to this day (the supports go before the glass will!)
    Everyone is right – this is not a craft that “runs on” solar – but there are many boats that do run %100 on solar, and the number is increasing as their efficiency, savings and dependability are realized (especially with dualgens and LEDs added to the package).

  10. nick.chapple July 7, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    I can imagine the harsh ocean environment would “eat” away standard PV panels pretty quickly. Its more of a step to show the first craft using direct solar power into the ship’s main electrical grid.
    I hope its OK to drop a trade name here as the company nanosolar with its head office in San Jose, CA currently print a clever solar cell foil creating immense energy which can be applied to various surfaces. With a ship incased in such a foil might be something we see in the next 10 years.
    Imagine a craft that could supply energy back to the national grid while morred in port

  11. theauthor July 7, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    The author of this article is flat out wrong in her title. If she had read the release she would’ve found that the panels do nothing involving the propulsion of the ship. They only provide 10% of operational electricity when the ship is IDLING and IN PORT. Also, there are much more effective and less expensive ways of reducing the fleets carbon emissions they go way beyond what 328 panels can do. There’s a much more through and accurate article concerning this ship here.

  12. Jeremy July 7, 2009 at 8:04 am

    10% is a start I suppose, by why only 328 panels? There’s room for about five times that number on the deck alone, and you could line the sides with them too

  13. StructureHub July 6, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    Definitely a much needed development, although I wonder why so much of the top deck’s square footage has no solar panel. The biggest challenge when it comes to pollution and the marine shipping industry is introducing even a little regulation to limit emissions. The industry is notoriously unrestrained, in part because so much of its existence occurs in international waters and involves so many jurisdictions, each with their own priorities and varying ability to abide by substantive environmental standards.


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