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ECO Yachting – a Gimmick or the Future?

April 10, 2012

ECO Yachting FPB StyleSaving the planet has become the popular, as well as the right thing to do. The will to improve and innovate both the way that we build yachts and their efficiency when in use increases, and as a result we are seeing greener technology being deployed within our industry.

Of course, the use of greener construction methods is being applied across the board and we expect to see this trend increase. However, one of the areas where we have seen yacht builders try to innovate has been with the use of hybrid technology and its application to the motor yacht side of things.

Sunseeker are building a Manhattan 70 that is hybrid powered; and the Azimut Mogellano 50 has a hybrid power option. The Mochi Long Range 23 is another offering with hybrid roots, and the Greenline 33 was also conceived and built around its hybrid credentials.

A hybrid yacht is one which uses two or more different types of propulsion. It would be possible to call a sailing yacht a hybrid as she uses sails and an auxiliary motor. However, in this case we are dealing with a conventional combustion engine and an electric engine. The electric engine normally shares the same propeller shaft and is mounted between the diesel engine and its drive train. Without the main engine working, electric propulsion is achieved using power from the yacht’s batteries (lithium are favourite). Of course, the diesel engine needs to charge the batteries so this delivers a reduction in carbon emissions rather than the silver bullet of a fully eco yacht. These yachts have been made possible by both increased interest in the green solution and new technology which delivers lithiumion batteries which are not cost prohibitive and weight and volume is modest enough to make them feasible to fit.

The next upgrade may well be the use of fuel cells. Frauscher in Austria have just launched the 757 St Tropez which is a hydrogencell powered sportsboat. Here the only emission is water which is deeply green. However, you have to have somehow to make and store hydrogen which makes the widespread use of this particular technology likely to be something for tomorrow’s world. Added to this, of course, is the use of technology and the use of modern design to reduce the amount of power required to drive the yacht. Steve Dashew and Dashew Off shore are at the forefront of this with use of solar energy. We asked Steve to write a few words on the subject, please see below:

A motor yacht that combines a minimal carbon footprint with a pleasant ambiance may seem like an impossible dream, but we can tell you from experience that it is possible. Even more surprising is the fact that it can cost less to operate than a comparably sized sailboat.

To achieve this requires starting at the beginning. Hull shape, structure, propulsion, air conditioning, ventilation, and deck plan amongst other items have to be holistically integrated, with efficiency as the goal. The first step in this process is picking a realistic cruising speed, where you operate most of the time, as opposed to a higher, but rarely used number. Optimizing hull shape and engines for this speed will yield substantial dividends in fuel efficiency, noise, draft and cruising range.

Next is careful engineering of the electrical systems. This starts with ventilation, heating, and air conditioning. Insulation, window design, natural shading, and interior air flow, have a huge impact on air conditioning loads, which in turn forms the baseline for generator sizing. Getting this part of the equation fine tuned substantially reduces generator size. Then switch to highly efficient DC based systems including “traction” batteries, modern inverter chargers, evaporator plate refrigeration with extra insulation, and the latest high efficiency cooking appliances and you can sit for days at anchor without touching the generator start button.

Excited? It gets better. Add an array of the best commercial solar panels into the mix and, depending on quantity and location, total independence from fossil fuel is possible. Of course you need the real estate in which to place those panels, and here we get back to the basic design.

How does this work in the real world? With our FPB 83, Wind Horse, we typically sit at anchor for three days before running the 8kW generator. Longer periods see us lighting off the genset every other day for two hours. We routinely cross oceans at 11 knots, burning an average of 26 liters per hour. Over the last 55,000 miles the average per mile cost of operation has been approximately one third less than our previous yacht, the 78 foot ketch, Beowulf.

The FPB 97, with its array of twenty 320 watt solar panels is generator independent at anchor, including an allowance for air conditioning the owner’s suite during the evening hours. The benefits of this approach are many: a quieter environment (for those aboard and their neighbors), more reliable, easily maintained systems, lowered costs, a substantially reduced carbon foot print, and long term sustainability should the traditional fuel supplies become disrupted.

There is no downside, and nothing magical or radical in the formula. It just takes a different mindset, starting at the beginning with efficient operation as the goal, and the willingness to spend a little extra on design, engineering, and construction. The payback is immediate in more pleasurable yachting.

As this is a review of the market, we felt we should comment about how the market will receive these new technologies and whether, if you choose to sail with green credentials, you will struggle to sell your yacht at the end of the cycle.

We believe that green technologies are something that will develop over the next period and that they will become more main stream as time goes on. This is a big subject and we are seeing this with housing, cars and a legion of other products that we use in our everyday life. Those who are buying now are the pioneers and this may imply some risk. Therefore in opting for modern green technology of the type that we describe, it is important to ask a few key questions that are important not just for the residual value of the yacht but for your enjoyment of the yacht during your ownership:

  1. Do you like, understand and feel at ease with the technology and the way the yacht looks? If you do, the chances are that her next owner will buy into the concept too.
  2. Is the design, yard and developer of the technology well known, financially stable and do they have a good track record? A new-comer, without a known name and with no track record is unlikely to be favoured in the market place going forward.
  3. Is the technology likely to be superseded or hugely improved during your ownership of the yacht? This implies built in obsolescence of the worst sort; and is something to guard against.
  4. Is the technology practical and easy to use and durable? If so, the longevity follows naturally.

If you are happy that you have satisfactorily answered the above then you need to ask one further key question:

Is this genuine eco-yachting and does it seriously add to the efficiency and green credentials of your yacht? If the innovations are simply paying lip service to the concept then it really isn’t worth having. If you’re happy that the design does deliver, we suggest that you go for it and enjoy the ride.

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