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Is this an extraordinary moment in time?

Is this an extraordinary moment in time? In many ways there is a foregone conclusion to this question; we live with daily uncertainty regarding many aspects of our lives. However, in the context of greener motor boating and more specifically how boats are propelled, we are seeing a significant upswing in the interest surrounding electric and solar boating. The manufacturers of ever increasingly elaborate craft are hurrying to incorporate the latest powertrain technology into their products and the market is responding with thirst.


There are likely to be a range of alternative technologies that come to the fore regarding the fundamental energy source. Should we solely be considering electric and solar, or are there merits for hydrogen and biofuels as topical examples? In this context it helps to consider the energy usage lifecycle, in other words the energy cost to produce the usable power source and not just the simple efficiency of using the end quanta of power.


There is no doubt that current battery technology is the limiting factor regarding both the performance of electrically powered craft and their environmental credentials; also that the electricity required is largely centrally generated. It is very easy to speed along the waves for a short period of time and similarly to go slowly for seemingly days on end. But in the mixed portfolio of use that we typically adopt when boating with family or friends, these extremes of performance do not resonate. The best electric boat manufacturers are already successfully grappling with this dichotomy.


For sheer extended performance it is at present difficult to better a combustion powered boat. In this context maybe an engine powered by biofuel could be a solution. The basic issue with biofuel if that whilst the burning of the fuel is net carbon zero, the energy cost and more specifically the carbon cost of production is staggeringly high. Given the process of producing biofuel involves the creation of hydrogen, why not stop at that stage and power boats in this way, that is quite apart from the obvious safety concerns regarding hydrogen powered boating.


What is extraordinary about this moment in time is the strong desire being exhibited by boat buyers for cleaner and greener ways to propel their boats. This is not a supply chain push but a market demand. A demand that can only currently be realistically supplied through the adoption of electric and solar powered vessels, mirroring the uptake of non-combustion automobiles. No longer is this sector of the boat buying public an unheard minority, seeking a propulsion solution to fulfil their personal goals. Rather the industry needs to take note and provide craft with the performance characteristics buyers are already experiencing in their vehicles on dry land.


Charles Fowler, Grosvenor Yachts. 


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