Boaters enjoy free solar energy with the Blue Isles floating microgrid. They are the world’s first solar power docks. Power to the people!
It was something as simple as a refreshing beverage that gave Rhode Island native Anthony Baro his brainwave. From one thirsty sailor’s need for a chilled beer came the idea of harvesting the sun’s energy to power boats.
“My boat was tied up in Rhode Island’s Bristol Harbor on a hot summer day,” said Baro. “I thought to myself, There has to be a good way to keep my onboard refrigerator running so that I can enjoy a cold drink.”
Already working in the renewable energy field, an inspired Baro teamed up with Chris Fagan to found PowerDocks in April 2016. Just over a year later, the company launched Blue Isles, their Marine Autonomous Powered Docking Platform (MAPD), a world first.
“Blue Isles has the potential to be a game changer in the marine environment,” explained Baro. “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.”
Hook Me Up
Fabricated on land, the first Blue Isles “aquatic microgrid” was installed in Newport Habor on Rhode Island in July. The 30-square-metre floating platform generates electricity through a bank of solar panels, stores it in batteries, and then delivers it to docked vessels.
It also provides WiFi up to a range of 90 metres. Platform operators such as marinas, harbours and private individuals can either rent platforms (when a charge for the generated electricity is included in the rental fee), or purchase them outright. Boaters using Blue Isles can download a smartphone app that controls charging and monitors electricity usage. The app also shows the temperature of batteries on the platform and images from security cameras.
“That’s roughly enough to supply energy to four boats for a week, without sunshine.”
“This particular platform can generate about two kilowatts of power and has storage capacity for about 12,” added Baro. “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 hooked up to Blue Isles they have no need for such generators, which are noisy, polluting and can be costly to run. Once deployed, a network of such microgrids will also serve the growing number of boaters using electric propulsion.
“With no fossil fuels involved, this is a completely green technology,” says Baro. “Not only do we want to lower energy costs for boaters, we also want to promote sustainable power. After all, we all enjoy eating fish and swimming in clean water.”
Blue Isles in Europe
PowerDocks has plans to roll out and diversify its offerings, and will launch Blue Isles in Europe at the METS TRADE 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.
It recently showcased a platform with the ability to recharge autonomous undersea vehicles and aerial drones.