Renewable Energy in Transport, Old Idea New Technology

Sailing with a twist

Wind

For hundreds of years, we used it to power ships. Ships that transported humans and cargo around the world.

In the late 19th century, sails gave way to steam. In turn in the early 20th century, steam gave way to oil.

Almost all cargo is still transported by the sea today. Oil still powers the oceans.

Yet as the world moves towards carbon neutrality there is another way.

One which is as revolutionary as it is old.

Sail power reimagined

Wind, it’s the oldest form of renewable energy we have. Its powered ships and windmills for centuries.

In the 21st century, that original idea of sails powering ships is being re-imagined.

Today’s vessels that bring cargo to us have of course changed compared to those of 200 years ago.

The main requirements are hydraulic and electrical power. That’s why our ships today are driven by oil-powered engines.

The last revolution in wind as a renewable energy source was the wind turbine 20 or so years ago.

That same idea of harnessing the power of the wind and turning it into electricity works better at sea then it does on land. After all, at sea, the wind is almost always there.

Using those principles the sail is being reimagined. There are several trials ongoing of rotary sails that turn in the wind. These generate electricity to power the ship on its journey around the world.

This won’t replace oil-powered ships completely. But it is another step forward to more renewable being used in transporting goods and people.

We can’t drop hydrocarbons. We wouldn’t be able to function for 5 minutes without them in the modern world.

What we can do is be very selective about their use and smarter in their application.

This quiet revolution taking place at sea isn’t gathering huge news coverage. But it is a step-change in our thinking around renewable energy and how we use it.

One that we should celebrate and follow with interest.

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