Today’s well-equipped cruising boat is something of a model for how civilization will be powered in the years ahead. We start with carbon, which is still the baseline source of energy ashore and afloat. Cruisers can’t afford to waste diesel, so we have employed advanced batteries and charging systems run by our motors that optimize the electrical energy created by burning diesel. With high output alternators and smart regulators in place, it is possible to run the entire boat’s electrical system for less than $5 a day in fuel.
But we don’t stop there. On the supply side, we have adopted innovative alternative energy sources that relieve the burden on the engine, reduce our carbon footprints, and save us money and trips to the fuel dock. A small array of solar panels will add a real boost to your battery bank every day. A large array in a sunny climate will run the whole boat and almost eliminate your carbon footprint altogether. Add a wind generator and even a water-driven generator for use while underway and you can maintain a large battery bank that is servicing a complex and energy-hungry home afloat complete with refrigeration, TV, microwave oven and computers. With all of the above energy generating systems in place, we are truly energy independent.
Still, there are more ways to improve our drive for independence by working at the demand side of the equation. Simply turning off unused lights (like shutting off a running water tap) is a habit every cruising boat should have. But we have also adopted new technology much faster than many people onshore. We have long used florescent bulbs to save energy and now we are rapidly installing LED bulbs wherever we can, from tri-color lights at the masthead to little lights in the engine room. The energy saved by doing away with incandescent bulbs is impressive.
The funny thing about highly motivated cruisers developing modern and innovative ways to be energy independent is that it did not necessarily occur because we were trying to save the planet. Rather, we were making capital investments in technology to live in a way that gives us the maximum independence to go where we like when we like without being tied to the fuel dock. In the context of the cruising life, reducing our carbon footprint as much as possible while making use of the energy that lies all around us is what sets us free. That this energy independence also helps reduce carbon emissions is an excellent net result. Hmmm…I wonder if there is a lesson in there somewhere?