India's first solar boat, made by Kerala start-up, wins international award

India's first solar boat wins international award
The boat 'Aditya' bagged the award for the best electric boat in the ferry category.
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India's first solar-powered boat Aditya, plying in the backwaters of Kerala, has won an international award.

The boat, owned by the Kerala State Water Transport Department, has won the Guessies International Award for the best electric boat in the ferry category.

The first international award exclusively for electric boats was instituted by Guessies, a France-based electric boat organisation.

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Aditya, designed and manufactured by Kochi-based startup NavAlt Solar and Electric Boats Limited, saw off competition from boats from 19 countries, including the USA, the UK, France and Germany.

The competition was divided into three categories: boats less than eight metres long, boats longer than eight metres and "ferry" boats for travellers.

Aditya’s glittering achievement comes after a two-phase poll on the Plugboats.com website.

The long list had 52 competitors, which was pruned to six in each category for the second and final round based on public votes.

The winner was announced on Monday at the end of the voting that started on July 4.

Rs 180: operational cost per day

The boat, which works with electricity and solar panels, started the freight service on the Vaikkom-Tavanakkadavu route on January 12, 2017.

Aditya operates 24 daily services on the Vaikom-Thavanakkadavu waterway and charges Rs 6 per ticket.

Naval architect Sandith Thandasherry, who heads NavAlt Solar and Electric Boats Limited, said the low operational cost and environmental benefits of the boat were the primary reasons that made Aditya stood out among the competitors.

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"Aditya runs 22 trips of three kms each every day carrying 75 passengers. It costs only 4 paise per passenger for a km. This means the running cost for a day will be around Rs 180. On the other hand, a diesel ferry's running cost will come around Rs 8,000 a day," Sandith, who hails from Thrissur, told Onmanorama.

Aditya has ferried over 10 lakh passengers in the past three years and saved over 1 lakh litre of diesel. "It brought in a profit of Rs 75 lakh and reduced carbon emission by 280 tonnes. Compared to the expenses of a diesel ferry in a similar period, Aditya had reached the break-even point already," Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said in a Facebook post announcing the news of the award.

Aditya was built at a cost of Rs 2 crore. The water transport department turned to solar power following a feasible study conducted in 2013. NavAlt was the only company that took part in the bidding when the department invited tenders for manufacturing solar boats. Aditya is the only solar-powered ferry conducting service in the state.

Order for five more boats

Sandith said his company has received orders to build five more solar boats for the department. "It will be an advanced version of Aditya," he said. The new version will cost Rs 3 crore. The company is also working on a 100-seater boat for a tourism project in Kuttanad.

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NavAlt has also received orders and proposals from various clients, including other state governments and private players for solar boats.

The company had won a Guinness record in 2010 for the fastest solar boat in India. NavAlt is the only company working in the solar ferry sector in the country.

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