India’s first solar-powered ferry Aditya wins global honour

Aditya, India’s first solar-powered ferry that commenced operations in 2017 in Kerala’s Vembanad backwaters, has won the prestigious Gustave Trouve Award for Excellence in Electric Boats and Boating. The ferry was adjudged the world’s best electric boat in the category of ferries designed for paid passenger service.

“The Aditya, from Navalt Boats, is a sun-powered commuter ferry that is one of the great stories of the future of electric marine propulsion,” the award read. “Every day she makes 22 trips with 75 people on board – that’s 580,000 people a year – and the charging cost to top up the batteries is $2.60 – two dollars and sixty cents a day – preventing the burning of 58,000 litres of diesel and saving ₹ 4,612,000 – $ 65,000 a year.”

The awards, handed out for the first time, is the world’s only such honour given to individuals and companies building and innovating in state-of-the-art electric boats. It was instituted this year in honour of Frenchman Gustave Trouve for his groundbreaking work in mobility based on electric transport, moving away from conventional fossil fuels. In 1881, he invented the world’s first outboard motor, connecting it to a rechargeable battery to sail a boat down the Seine river in silence.

“We have won the award for the best electric ferry in the world. It’s definitely a very good achievement and we are very happy,” said Sandith Thandassery, a naval architect from IIT Madras and founder-CEO of NavAlt, that built Aditya from scratch.

He said the recognition will hopefully open up a world full of opportunities and possibilities for the company as well as ignite more discussions about electric water-transport among policy-makers in New Delhi.

“It’s an issue of mindset that somehow frontier technologies cannot be built in India. There’s a perception in some quarters. They invariably try to not prefer Indian technologies. I’m specifically referring to the Kochi Metro project on electric boats. Cochin Shipyard is consciously choosing technologies which are not necessarily from India, although this is working fine here. At least give us a level-playing field. That’s not happening… these are the things that may change the perception that what’s developed here can also be frontier. I hope that a change in mindset will come,” added Thandassery.

Aditya, the only one shortlisted from Asia among 12 ferries in the world after a rigorous audit process, entered the finals with six contestants in the first week of July through public voting. It was declared the winner on July 26.

The ferry belongs to the Kerala State Water Transport Department (KSWTD) and has been plying on the Vaikkom-Thavanakkadavu route in Alappuzha district since January 2017. It has been hailed as a testament to responsible green transport projects, leaving no carbon footprint and saving the KSWTD thousands of litres of diesel every year.

Aditya’s daily operations are also important to the territory in which it plies: the critically vulnerable Vembanad lagoon ecosystem where the effects of pollution have long been termed as disastrous.

Next month, NavAlt is expected to hand-over a double-decker air-conditioned solar-powered ferry for 100 passengers to KSWTD to be run on tourist circuits in Alappuzha. Five more passenger ferries are in the offing for release by next year, said Thandassery.