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NORTH KINGSTOWN—The Port of Quonset last year saw over 175,000 vehicles land at its two piers from 158 ships traveling throughout the world’s oceans. On Monday, the port entertained a different kind of ship; the world’s first solar power-assisted car shipping vessel.
The is a 656 foot car shipment vessel powered largely by 300 solar panels which adorn the top deck. The approximately 60,000 gross ton ship, built in 2008, can hold over 6,000 vehicles on average, and is operated by the NYK Line, a shipping business headquartered in Tokyo, Japan.
“It is the first of its kind,” said Matthew Martyn, operations manager for NYK Line’s North America branch. “We can run things like ventilation and fuel pumps on the solar panels, and it also reduces CO2 and greenhouse gases.”
The solar panels provide power in part as well to the ship’s main engine control system and general lighting. Martyn also highlighted the vessel’s other environmental preservation measures, including a ballast management system which reduces the amount of invasive species which ballast water can typically contain.
“We are helping the environment,” said Martyn. “The new ballast water system prevents the transmission of invasive species, both when adding and discharging ballast water.”
Although the Auriga Leader is a pioneering effort by NYK Lines aimed at reducing carbon emissions through hybrid renewable energy systems, the maintenance and expertise required for a ship powered by solar is much different than any land operation. According to Martyn, the engineers on board the ship must be trained to deal with specific issues that might afflict the solar panels’ operation, and the ocean environment is not necessarily the friendliest for state-of-the-art energy technology.
“The environments on a ship are so harsh, harsher than for a solar panel on a farm,” said Martyn. “The engineers on board are their own force. Those guys are well versed [in the solar panel technology] and learn more when they come to the ship.”
For the crew members, traveling aboard the first hybrid solar-powered shipping vessel is quite a unique experience.
“We get to go to places we can only dream about for free,” said Angelo, the Auriga Leader’s Third Officer. “You get a little bit homesick, but you get used to it.”
Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse took a tour of the Auriga Leader on Monday, chatting with Captain Dan Bodea and other crew members. Steven King, executive director of the Quonset Development Corporation, was also on hand.
“Putting renewable energy technology to use can help create jobs here in Rhode Island and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels,” said Whitehouse. “I was glad to join the Quonset Development Corporation at the Port of Davisville today to see an innovative use of solar energy.”
“This kind of investment is a win for our economy and a win for our environment,” he added.
Whitehouse presented Bodea with a plaque recognizing the Auriga Leader as an innovative step for world commerce, one which will hopefully provide an example in improving environmental consciousness moving forward.