Friday, October 28, 2005

Skysails Redux

The British Independent Online has a story today that revisits the idea of spinnaker-type kites for freighters – pegging the interest to the rise in fuel costs. The idea, as promulgated by Hamburg-based firm Skysails, is to turn the ocean going freighter fleet into hybrid (part wind, part nasty old fossil fuel powered) vessels, thus cutting fuel costs by an estimated 50%. I’m more than willing to support anyone using wind power…using the breeze to stay in motion is my passion. But (again) I have to question if this rather faddish sounding solution is truly practical. According to the article the Skysails system is very simple. Kites between 750 and 5,000 square meters are launched from a ship, flying between 100m and 300m above sea level, where wind power can be twice as strong as that which propels conventional sails – and are operated with a computer autopilot and can be retracted by a winch during poor weather. I’m no maritime shipping expert but I do know that reliability and consistency are the markers of profit for such a business. As anyone who has been offshore depending on the wind understands, sailing is neither. Would the cost to outfit freighters with kites, the potential risks of equipment failure and other wind powered dangers and the need to train crew to do more than sip coffee and stare at the radar be outweighed by the benefits?

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