Auriga Leader Spotted

We have scaled back here on productivity recently, partly due to the holidays and partly due to our chronic illnesses, ranging from bronchitis and a lung infection, to a cold featuring 24/7 coughing. This kind of constant coughing means that neither of us has slept much in the last two weeks. I’m sure our usual output will resume in a few days.

But what I must mention is the gigantic ship that glided past our East Boston window this morning, on its way into port. The Auriga Leader is a Japanese car transport ship that derives part of its energy needs from solar power.

The ship is squat and chunky, like the former Washington Redskins full-back John Riggins. (It’s 650 feet long with a 100-foot beam.) When it came into view cruising north in the Boston Harbor channel, it was on a course parallel to Meridian Street. From initial perceptions, I had expected a much bigger vessel like the tankers we see occasionally, and expected to watch its progress for much longer. But soon the blue brick of a ship was out of view and gone.

Its name was unusual, to I had to look it up, and discovered the ship itself is unusual. Launched in 2008 the ship, built by a partnership of Nippon Yusen, a huge Japanese shipping company, and Nippon Oil, set the marine world alight by the revelation that it is, at least nominally, a solar ship.

Approximately 300 deck-mounted solar cells produce 40 kilowatts, or only about 0.3% of the energy needed for engine-based devices and roughly 7% of the electricity needed for lighting and other purposes, but green pundits contend that this is significant nonetheless.

A blogger named John wrote: “This is probably not for propulsion so much as for electrical power when in port. Things like diesel power generators on board ships, and trains and trucks transporting cargo to/from the ships, cause big pollution problems in and around ports. With major ports such as Los Angeles charging ever-higher fees for supplying electricity and hefty fines for excess emissions from on-board diesel generators I can see why shipbuilders are responding with equipment like this.”

This makes plenty of sense. If a large ship can produce clean power at least part of the time, say while anchored in a dirty port city, that would be an important contribution to the health of the planet’s atmosphere. If, on the other hand, that green contribution is outweighed by the pollution produced by the extra cars being delivered by such giant freight ships, that’s another question.

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