World’s First Solar Cargo Ship Sets Sail

Back in September we reported plans for Japanese shipping line Nippon Yusen KK and Nippon Oil Corporation to build a ship partially propelled with solar power. On Friday those plans came to fruition with the launching of the 60,000-ton Auriga Leader, a 656-foot-long (200 meter) cargo vessel initially tasked to carry cars across the ocean for Toyota motor company.

The Auriga Leader can carry up to 6,400 cars for sale in foreign markets.

The vessel is equipped with 328 solar panel able to produce about 40 kilowatts or less than one percent of the power required to move the ship. Company officials stress that this represents only the beginning, with plans to increase the ratio of propulsion power from solar energy. Until the Auriga Leader set sail, solar energy has been used only to power crew cabins and other auxiliary power needs. You gotta start somewhere.

Cutting emissions from ocean shipping

In 2007, emissions from international maritime shipping accounted for an equivalent of 847 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, or about 2.7% of the global total, according to the International Maritime Organization.

Starting with the Auirga Leader, shipping giant Nippon Yussen has set a goal of cutting their emissions in half by 2010.

Solar panels

The solar panels aren’t installed directly on the ship, but rather on the ship’s car carrier and from there connected to the vessel’s onboard 440-volt electrical system. By attaching the panels to the car carrier instead of directly on the hull, the panels should be protected from vibrations, wind, and salt-water damage.

Equipping the ship with the solar panels cost Nippon Yusen and Nippon Oil Corp. ¥150 million, about $1.68 million.

The joint development project between the two companies continues.

Tom is the founder, editor, and publisher of and the TDS Environmental Media Network. He has been a contributor for Triple Pundit since 2007. Tom has also written for Slate, Earth911, the Pepsico Foundation, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, and many other sustainability-focused publications. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists

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