The Great Barrier Reef, long considered one of the world's most precious environmental areas, is a massive expanse of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for over 2,600 kilometres (1,600 mi) over an area of approximately 344,400 square kilometres (133,000 sq mi). Patrolling it is a daunting task enough for Queensland’s Department of National Parks, Recreation, Sport and Racing (DNPRSR) and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), and doing so in an environmentally friendly way even more so. Thus the two agencies are turning to solar power to help them accomplish this.
Incat Crowther and Marine Engineering Consultants (MEC) has been tapped by the two governmental agencies to construct a a 24m (78.7 feet) long-range Catamaran Patrol Vessel to work in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (GBRWHA). The catamaran will be as about eco-friendly as a boat of this type can be, sporting "extensive solar panels, high R-value insulation, zoned air conditioning, as well as window blinds and shutters to reduce the impact of the Queensland sun."
The solar energy collected by the panels will be fed into lithium-ion batteries to
reduce the use of diesel generators both in operation and whilst at anchor at night. The batteries are charged during the day by solar power, allowing the vessel’s diesel generators to remain shut down overnight. At these times, the battery bank will supply power for house loads, including air conditioning. In the event of increased demand, the generators will automatically start. Depending on the load case, they will either provide direct power, or charge the batteries.
Multiple drive train options were evaluated, noted Incat Crowther, with "hybrid propulsion options at the forefront. Long term costs were taken into account, with the decision being to combine conventional diesels with supplementary solar panels and a highly-efficient hull form. The vessel will be powered by a pair of Yanmar 6AYM-WGT engines, producing 670kW each. Capable of speeds up to 25 knots, the vessel is optimized for efficient cruising between 12 and 20 knots."
The catamaran is expected to be in the water early next year.