Whale Watching in Iceland on an Electric Powered Schooner

Today marks a milestone in eco-friendly transportation as the newly transformed Opal embarks on her first whale watching tour. With the outer appearance of a traditional gaff rigged sailing ship, the vessel is without a doubt the most technologically advanced ship in the fleet.

Opal is the first ship in the world to be installed with the specifically designed Regenerative Plug-In Hybrid Propulsion System, and is equipped to recharge her batteries while under sails. On a day-to-day basis, the ship’s batteries will be recharged when docked, utilizing the sustainable, green energy of Iceland’s energy grid. During whale watching tours, the electric motor will silently propel the boat, but when the ship is under sails, the propeller blades can be modified and used to recharge the ship’s batteries. This technique has never been used on a sea vessel before, and has gathered much attention wherever it has been introduced elsewhere in the world.

Electric powered schooner

Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson addresses audience at the Opal inauguration. (Photo: Business Wire)

The new electric system is not only eco-friendly and carbon-free, but it also minimizes the disturbance to the whales, allowing the ship and her passengers to get closer to the majestic animals.

Multinational collaboration

The new electrical system, batteries, drive and propeller have all been designed specifically for Opal in a collaborative effort of North Sailing and a team of Nordic companies: Caterpillar Propulsion (Sweden) and Wave Propulsion (Norway) designed the propeller and the Icelandic company Naust Marine designed the electrical and control system in collaboration with Clean eMarine (Denmark) and Anel AS (Norway).

Other partners in the project are Lakeside Excursion (Faroe Islands), Bellona (Norway), Icelandic New Energy and Innovation Center Iceland. Lithium Storage (Switzerland) specifically designed and produced the batteries for Opal. The project is sponsored by Nordisk Atlantssamarbejde (NORA), The Ministry of Internal Affairs (Iceland), Transnova (Norway), Nordic Innovation, The Icelandic Transport Authority and the Energy Fund (Iceland).

Electric powered Schooner Opal

Schooner Opal. Image courtesy of North Sailing.

From now on, Opal will run solely on eco-friendly electricity, and the old diesel engine will only be used for emergencies. Along with the engine changes, the ship’s hull has been overhauled and strengthened, and the sailing gear has been modified to better utilize the wind energy.

North Sailing´s Electric Fleet

“North Sailing’s policy is to minimize the emission of greenhouse gasses from its operations, as well as educate our passengers on environmental protection and the sustainable utilisation of resources,” says Árni Sigurbjarnason, one of the founders of North Sailing. He says that the steps now being taken are in line with the company’s policy to be a leader in environmentally friendly tourism by the coastlines of Iceland and East-Greenland: “If the project goes well, we plan on transforming the other vessels in our fleet into electric ships, so we can minimize the disturbance to the whales in their natural environment, and to make the whale watching experience even more environmentally friendly.”

Wilderness Tourism on a New Level

Jonas Granath, the Manager of System Integration at Caterpillar Propulsion Sweden AB, says that using a combined Propeller and Turbine on a sailing vessel is unique, and this has been a challenge for them: “The aim has been to get maximum efficiency while utilizing a minimum of power in order to get a ‘True Green Vessel’ without CO2 emissions. The target that North Sailing set up is really innovative and environmental friendly, and will definitely take the Icelandic wilderness tourism to a new level. To be able to manoeuvre the ship without pollution in complete silence during whale watching, and get so close to the wild animals, must be a special experience and we are happy to be a part of making this possible.”

Big Event in Eco-Friendly Energy

Jón Björn Skúlason, General Manager of Icelandic New Energy, says that North Sailing’s developmental work has not gone unnoticed and that it has been carefully monitored from abroad: “This project has utilized technology from many different sources, coming together in a unique, never-before-seen, novelty. I think this is one of the biggest events in the utilization of eco-friendly energy that has taken place in Iceland in a long time.” Icelandic New Energy’s largest shareholders are the Icelandic State, Reykjavík Energy, Landsvirkjun – National Power Company of Iceland, and HS Orka.

Innovative project

“We are very proud to be a cooperating partner in this innovative project,” says Frederic Hauge, the Founder and President of the Bellona Foundation: “We believe the drive line that has been developed has a great potential for both retrofitting of existing ships and for new ships. As an environmental NGO with a long history of working with Arctic issues, it is of special importance to us that those ships that sail in Arctic waters will in the near future be able to do so without emitting harmful black carbon and other particles.”

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This post was prepared by Solar Thermal Magazine staff.

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