Originally published in the Daily Star
The government has adopted a plan to introduce solar-powered passenger boats, aiming to curb water pollution, provide a safe home to aquatic species, and enhance the living standards of local people.
“Generally, fuel-run small boats are being used for carrying passengers on short-length waterways in the country. Instead of the fuel-run boats, we are thinking of introducing solar boats to save energy and environment,” said Siddique Zobair, a member of Sustainable & Renewable Energy Development Authority (SREDA).
He said SREDA has already built five conventional solar-powered boats which are plying the waterways on an experimental basis. “If we can build fibre-glass based boats with solar panels, the boats will be sustainable,” he added.
But Zobair said that entrepreneurs must come forward to produce fibre-glass boats commercially to make those cost effective.
“We've already held a meeting with a Chattogram-based French agency to know about the cost of fibre-glass boats. We are also communicating with Chinese firms, which produce them,” he said.
According to official statistics, the country has 24,140km of waterways comprising about 800 rivers and their branches. Wooden boats are commonly used. Nowadays, diesel-powered boats are mostly used for transportation and fishing purposes.
These boats are fuel-inefficient and the majority of them depend on imported diesel, resulting in a comparatively high operation and maintenance cost. Besides, diesel-run boats cause harm to the environment, discharging oil and chemical substances into water.
Considering the adverse impacts, SREDA, with the assistance of UNDP Bangladesh, has produced five solar energy-based boats, which are operational in Hatirjeel in Dhaka, Panam Lake in Narayanganj and Foy's Lake in Chattogram on a pilot basis.
Dr Md Taibur Rahman, project manager of Sustainable Renewable Power Generation Project of UNDP Bangladesh, said the limit of carbon outflow from a solar boat is zero and that is why solar boats are suitable for water routes.
About the environmental benefits of the solar boats, he said the use of about 6.67 litres of diesel, worth Tk 494, will be decreased daily by a solar-powered boat while each boat will reduce 5.89 tonnes of annual carbon dioxide outflow. “A solar boat is hundred percent environment-friendly and doesn't emit greenhouse gases,” he added.
Taibur said once the fibre-based solar boats are produced commercially, the cost of a boat will be about Tk 3 to 4 lakh, which will be affordable for boatmen.