125: Electric boat as microgrid


After a hurricane of Category 4-5, the entire population of a devastated island has no electricity.


An electric boat as microgrid.

When the first 12 pax solar boats were built in 1995 by MW-Line in Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland, the 75ft (23 m) Solifleur and Chlorophylle were operated by Pro Natura for nature excursions on the Lake of Neuchâtel.

Suggested and implemented by Theodor Schmidt, these were the first solar boats to be fitted with a mains connection in order to feed extra solar energy into the 230V grid when the boats are not being used.

Twenty-four years later, researchers at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia created an system that can theoretically turn electric boats into small renewable power plants. They tested the algorithm with a microgrid in their lab, using four 6-volt gel batteries connected in a 24-V series as a stand-in for a boat. To implement this approach, they would need an electric boat with its own PV system, which would charge the boat’s batteries when the boat was moored.

Then when the boat is docked, it could act as a small power plant, providing electricity to homes on an island. If Indonesia, for example, were hit with a natural disaster, those microgrids could be destroyed.

Even Indonesia’s widely electrified islands may be impacted. With the new approach, the Indonesian government could use the boats it sent with food and supplies to also provide power. In their experiment, they found that the algorithm could manage power flows reliably enough to allow electric boats to provide peak load support to a grid directly after a trip.

With the algorithm in place, boat owners could decide when to sell electricity, and how much they wanted to sell. They might, for example, set their system to automatically sell 10 % of its stored energy, and only if the batteries are at least halfway charged. Boats are uniquely positioned to provide this kind of service, the researchers point out. Electric cars do not generally have their own PV system.

So instead of adding power to the grid such as a boat could, electric cars draw from it. The proposed technology works pretty similarly to the microgrids that are gradually rolling out in Indonesia. Those microgrids also contain PVs to collect energy and li-ion batteries to store it, but there is . one key difference: portability.

When some natural disaster occurs in dispersed islands, the electricity networks or generation systems are heavily damaged, and residents live without electricity for weeks. In this case, consumers having this technology can immediately get their power.

The concept is still in its infancy, but the University of New South Wales team expects to get its algorithm out of the lab and into the ocean by testing it with an actual electric boat in the near future.

Discover solution 126: Electricity from microbes

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