Sailing is inherently environmentally friendly. Crossing oceans or just racing around the cans on a Wednesday evening at the local sailing club is not only good for your own health, it is also good for the planet. But, many marinas and infrastructure that facilitates sailing are not particularly sustainable. The world is going electric and renewable and its time the marine industry follows.
However, an American company called PowerDocks have set out with an ambitious and exciting project. Solar powered moorings, docks and entire marinas.
They will launch their product Blue Isles in Europe at the METSTRADE show in November. The company sees potential applications for solar power platforms in areas as diverse as commercial fishing and aquaculture, oceanographic research, water quality monitoring and the military.
Scandinavian Mariner Magazine had a chance to talk to Chris Fagan, one of the partners of PowerDocks to hear more about solar technology can benefit sailors around the world.
Please, can you give our readers a short introduction to how this endeavour came about?
- PowerDocks is the product of a collaboration between two partners, myself, (Chris Fagan) and Anthony Baro. Respectively, we both are established entrepreneurs. For the past nine years, I have been running an architectural firm, "Fagan Design Build Studio". My company provides sustainable design-build services for multiple markets including residential and commercial development, as well as production set design for the film industry.
Anthony owns “E2Sol”, a renewable energy development and engineering company. His company facilitates large scale solar, wind and hydroelectric energy projects. We met in 2015 at a project meeting for a new green commercial development that we were both working on. I was providing the designs for a new commercial building and Anthony was engineering a roof mounted solar array for the project. We ended up grabbing a coffee after the meeting and quickly discovered that we have many similar interests, especially a passion for design and a great appreciation for the ocean environment. After a few more meetings and many more cups of coffee, PowerDocks was born.
“We’re talking about a completely autonomous and sustainable powered mooring capable of generating, storing and distributing renewable energy to boats in areas where there was never power before.” Anthony Baro, co founder of PowerDocks
Our meeting turned out to be a really good connection, at just the right time. I think that beyond the fact that we are both designers, the common bond between Anthony and myself was that we are both lifelong sailors. Anthony jokes that this company really started with is wife's desire for cold, happy hour drinks on the boat, in the hot summer. Specifically, Anthony was looking for a way to run his sailboat's refrigerator while on his mooring and not drain his batteries.
When Anthony and I first talked we ended up sketching out some basic ideas for a floating dock system with integrated solar and battery storage. At that point we took a look at the marine industry and identified a few larger trends. First, electricity in the marine industry was mostly being provided by fossil fuel generators, or the traditional onshore power grid. Second, from a propulsion standpoint, the marine industry was beginning to move away from traditional fossil fuels and into electric powered engines. Despite the industry trending away from fossil fuels and into electric, it was clear that nobody had established a dynamic method to recharge while on the water.
We then started to research different applications of how solar was currently being utilized in the marine environment. This was in 2015, and we didn't find much, but we did come across a few large scale floating solar developments. Specifically, international projects that were working to convert existing water reservoirs into solar farms. China is now developing huge floating solar farms.
We also started to see some yachts with solar panels mounted on decks and even some yacht designs with solar incorporated directly into the deck or sails.
Anthony and I asked ourselves what is the middle ground between these two scales? Can we design system that would allow boaters to recharge vessels without having to tie back into the traditional power grid? In short, how could we design a floating micro-grid for individual boaters. This is the point that we formalized our partnership and moved to patent and commercialize our designs.
Since then the company has grown in a number of ways. We have expanded our scope from the basic recharging of boats, to a variety of other solar recharging products.
What can your research tell us about the need for more solar power and convenience among sailors?
- We see two major trends happening in the marine industry. First, everything is going electric. It only makes sense that given the option, boaters will leave fossil fuels and embrace electric propulsion. Beyond the initial costs these units are cheaper, much quieter and don’t pose any significant threat to the ocean environment. Second, we see that “IOT” or the Internet Of Things has reached the aquatic space. Mariners are looking to be connected to their boats even when they themselves are on land.
IOT is taking off, it seems, in private homes around the world. Can you explain what sort of IOT tech the PowerDocks will have?
- Not only will our powerdocks provide recharging on the water, they will generate data, transmitted directly to your smartphone. We want our customers to know exactly what is happening with their powerdock in real time. Whether they own a powered mooring for recharging an electric vessel or a series of water quality buoys, those units will have the power to transmit information 24/7.
What sort of other solutions are coming from PowerDocks and can you see other industries putting this platform to use?
- We have expanded our scope from the basic recharging of boats, to a variety of other solar recharging products. Specifically, we have designed autonomous docks for the wireless recharging of air drones and unmanned underwater vehicles. We successfully demonstrated this technology to the US Navy last Summer at The Annual Naval Technology Exposition or ANTX 2017 Navy.
We have also moved into water quality monitoring by developing IOT units for testing water conditions in the oceans, harbors and freshwater aquatic systems in real time. The other area that we are working in is aquaculture. Not only can our company provide power for water quality testing but we can also provide energy to process and secure products.
In terms of moving forward, our company is looking to provide users with sustainable, intelligent marine infrastructure, capable of recharging a variety of electric engines, robotics and sensors.
When will we see PowerDocks in Europe?
- In terms of a European launch, PowerDocks is now up and running, selling a full product line of powered dock units. We are also very much available to help clients with custom design-build projects. A lot of the issues that boaters, or marina owners confront are unique to the site, or the local conditions. We are here to help the marine industry with all of their power issues.
This particular platform can generate about two kilowatts of power and has storage capacity for about 12 kilowatts. That’s roughly enough to supply energy to four boats for a week, without sunshine.Many boats have gas or diesel generators to charge the batteries that power their electrical systems, including refrigeration equipment. When boats are tied up to the platform they have no need for such generators, which are noisy, polluting and can be costly to run and maintain. With no fossil fuels involved, this is a completely green technology.
A big thank you to Chris Fagan for providing us with great answers!
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