Can electric boats supply power in disaster zones?

Researchers at Australia’s University of New South Wales have developed a system that could enable electric boats to supply power to homes and businesses in the aftermath of disasters like Hurricane Dorian. Last week the power grid serving Great Abaco was destroyed and there was an island-wide power outage on Grand Bahama Island.

The boats would need to have solar panels to generate the electricity, of course, but the algorithm developed by the NSW team would enable them to act as floating mini power plants and link up their batteries to an onshore grid and supply at least some electricity to those in need.

Photo of the lab set up used to test an electric boat power supply system

One of the biggest impacts of storms like Dorian and Maria, which hit Puerto Rico in 2017, is the devastation of the electric grid. Even though power lines in individual neighbourhoods may be unaffected, broken links hundreds of miles away can result in widespread power outages and in turn, food spoiling and clean water shortages.

The system was validated in a real network and also in lab microgrid using four 6-volt gel batteries connected in a 24-V series as a stand-in for a boat.

The report, Real-Time Load and Ancillary Support for a Remote Island Power System Using Electric Boats was published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE.org), the world’s largest technical professional organization for the advancement of technology.

While the report outlines a multi-boat system, a single boat version is actually already in use. We wrote about the solar powered plastic skimming boat ‘Plakman’ which doubles duty as a mini power grid and was recognized by Bertrand Piccard’s Solar Impulse Foundation as an Efficient Environmental Solution.

A brightly painted Indonesian outrigger boat with a solar panel roof

System can provide immediate power after disasters

Jayashri Ravishankar of UNSW and an author of the report said “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, and the ships sent by the government to distribute food can also supply electricity.”

The system and algorithm developed is called a real-time load support system (RTLS) and abstract/summary says “This novel system can substantially reduce the grid load demand and maintain the power quality under various load/source uncertainties and fault conditions.”

Can be permanent solution for remote islands

The system is intended to be used not only for disasters, but also as an ongoing power solution for remote islands like in Indonesia, where some are still using diesel generators to generate electricity. Many also have challenges with power quality, grid stability and load balancing.

Large on-island batteries can solve some of these issues, but are simply too expensive for these types of islands. A group of batteries connected to individual boats may be able to provide the same benefits as one big battery.

According to the Microgrid Knowledge website’s description of how it all works, “The RTLS system controls the power flow to and from electric boats and batteries. The controller would be connected to the electric boats, the battery storage, whatever solar generator is being used and also the grid. Extra energy from the solar would be routed to the battery, and a series of converters would enable energy transfer to and from the electric boats. Based on the grid load, power generation, and conditions of the battery and electric boat, the controller would coordinate the battery charging and discharging.”

You can donate to Bahamas Disaster Relief through either of these organizations

Logo of the National Association of The Bahamas
The National Association of The Bahamas (NAB), is a 501(c)  non-profit organization. We are supported by voluntary partnership of Bahamians and friends of the Bahamas, all working to better the communities in the Bahamas.  NAB has been in existence since 1993 and it is managed by Bahamians living in the Miami Metro and surrounding areas.Logo of the Grand Bahama Disaster Relief Fund and oOundation All donations to the The Grand Bahama Disaster Relief Fund and Foundation go to be distributed to local charities and individuals in Grand Bahama with full transparency as administered by the Grand Bahama Port Authority.

Photo of Hurricane Dorian: NOAA satellite image

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a luxury 64' yacht seen from above with solar panels on its roof

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