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Computer-Controlled Cargo Sailing Vessels Go Slow, Frugal

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the using-up-all-the-wind dept.

Transportation 210

An anonymous reader writes "Big container ships are taking it very slow these days, cruising at 10 knots instead of their usual 26 knots, to save fuel. This is actually slower than sailing freighters traveled a hundred years ago. The 1902 German Preussen, the largest sailing ship ever built, traveled between Hamburg (Germany) and Iquique (Chile): the best average speed over a one way trip was 13.7 knots. Sailing boats need a large and costly crew, but they can also be controlled by computers. Automated sail handling was introduced already one century ago. In 2006 it was taken to the extreme by the Maltese Falcon, which can be operated by one man at the touch of a button. We have computer-controlled windmills, why not computer-controlled sailing cargo vessels?"

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economics and variability (3, Insightful)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 5 years ago | (#27569409)

The bean-counters decided it was better to operate off a relatively fixed cost like fuel and have a dependable schedule. The whole story of the 20th century has been "Yeah, you could do this or that but it's just simpler and cheaper to use fossil fuels." Environmentalism won't drive alternative fuels, economics will. If it becomes cheaper to use sail, we'll go back to sail. The cost of fuel will only rise from this point, peak oil is here, so the economics we need for sail should be here now.

Re:economics and variability (4, Insightful)

Jamey (10635) | more than 5 years ago | (#27569489)

The other story of the 20th Century was "Just-In-Time", which meant reserves and stockpiles have been kept as low as feasible. That would be another factor limiting acceptance of sail - we'd need larger stockpiles to ride out any delays. Honestly though, with satellite imaging, and computer control - there's no real reason sail travel should be any less controllable and predictable than using fossil fuels. And at the speeds involved, there wouldn't even need to be any major code to do image processing and interpretation on the ship itself (though with the computer needed to handle the rigging, and the need to monitor against potential collisions, should be enough to actually do the planning on ship... but coordination would be better from a central site and general directions relayed via satellite.)

Re:economics and variability (5, Interesting)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 5 years ago | (#27569769)

The cost of fuel will only rise from this point, peak oil is here, so the economics we need for sail should be here now.

The unreliability of sail is an issue, though. I think we'll see "hybrid" shipping becoming more common -- kite sailing when the wind is favorable (or perhaps kite-assisted), fossil fuels when it is not. This will reduce costs & environmental impact, a nice combo.

Here [slashdot.org] 's a discussion we had previously on kite-assisted shipping.

Re:economics and variability (3, Insightful)

linzeal (197905) | more than 5 years ago | (#27570143)

Why not just go nuclear [atomicengines.com] ? We could eliminate CO2 and increase the speed by 2x over diesel.

Re:economics and variability (1, Interesting)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 5 years ago | (#27570587)

Because I for one do not welcome our nuclear-fuel-spilling private corporate overlords?

Re:economics and variability (2, Insightful)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | more than 5 years ago | (#27572045)

i would prefer to have nuclear used in the ocean where a limitless supply of plasma coolant is available and has the option to "eject the warp core" when things go tits up.

Re:economics and variability (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27570783)

Regulations and operating costs involved with plant management. You'd seriously limit which ports you could pull into with nuclear. Or you'd be under the onus of inspections, and in some cases a country or port authority might charge money for that. Some countries still have weird regulations that limit the amount of automation in a nuclear power system, they might be inclined to enforce that rule on a ship entering its territorial waters. Also who would want a poorly maintained nuclear vessel floating around, its bad enough that some of old diesels leak oil as much as they do. Imagine if something was sailing around out there with a leaky primary coolant circuit.

Kite ships or sail doesn't have that kind of impact cost. A mast or tractor kite failure is unlikely to cause some kind of environmental problem. And the speeds diesels are currently going at to save money, why not put a hybrid system in place? Also the up-front cost would be way cheaper than materials needed and bureaucratic paperwork clearing required to implement a commercial nuclear system.

Re:economics and variability (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27571759)

Yeah, I but I want my Chinese crap NOW!

pirates (1)

joggle (594025) | more than 5 years ago | (#27572231)

I wouldn't want that if, for no other reason, due to the piracy off of Somalia. It would be far too easy for them to simply steal the nuclear fuel if they were nuclear powered.

Heck, there's concern about even arming the crews because they're afraid this would just encourage pirates to steal the weapons.

Re:pirates (2, Interesting)

Duradin (1261418) | more than 5 years ago | (#27572747)

Actually, in the long run it'd be a very good thing if a band of Somali pirates got their hands on some nuke fuel.

The pirates themselves don't have the capability to convert it into anything more than a dirty bomb.

The pirates could sell the material to the terrorist organization du jour. They might be able to make a slightly more effective dirty bomb out of it.

That's if the focused attention from the bulk of the western world hasn't given Somalia a new coastline that is twenty miles further inland than the old one.

Somalia is an honest-to-diety failed state. The U.N.'s negligence in this matter is criminal. Iraq and Afghanistan, while not friendly with us were at least stable. (So we go in and destabilize them...) Meanwhile a country that should have intense international attention is ignored. Sadly, it's going to take a few Americans getting offed to trigger the good ol' Pearl Harbor reaction. It's going to suck for those few Americans but those Somali pirates are in need of a history lesson on what the phrase "to the shores of Tripoli" is referring to and that no country does knee-jerk reactions like we do (and when we do it the whole world feels it).

No shit, Sherlock (1)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 5 years ago | (#27571611)

Most seagoing sailboats are motor sailers already. Sailing cargo ships will need generators for refrigeration etc., so there is no point in NOT providing either a gearbox and prop shaft or an electric drive for emergency power and manouevering.

Re:economics and variability (5, Insightful)

PPalmgren (1009823) | more than 5 years ago | (#27569819)

Its not just about fixed scheduling, its about weight and economies of scale. Sails are no longer viable with the size of the ships transporting cargo. The smallest ship I've dealth with holds 300 20ft containers with an avg weight of ~30,000 lbs. Some can be loaded with over 200 million pounds of cargo. I don't even think we have the materials developed to make sails for those physically possible.

The only practical application of sails for cargo ships is augmenting the engine, which we've seen before here on slashdot (too lazy to find the link).

Re:economics and variability (5, Insightful)

ixl (811473) | more than 5 years ago | (#27570943)

Dependable schedules are one reason, the other big reason is that sails interfere with loading and unloading the boat.

Modern shipping extensively uses cargo containers that are rapidly loaded and unloaded using cranes. This advance has drastically lowered the per-unit costs of shipping freight in the last half-century (check out the book "The Box" [amazon.com] for more details).

If adding sails makes it difficult to use a crane to unload containers from the deck of a boat (likely, imo), then it would make the per-unit cost of shipping skyrocket.

Re:economics and variability (3, Interesting)

david.given (6740) | more than 5 years ago | (#27571651)

The bean-counters decided it was better to operate off a relatively fixed cost like fuel and have a dependable schedule. The whole story of the 20th century has been "Yeah, you could do this or that but it's just simpler and cheaper to use fossil fuels." Environmentalism won't drive alternative fuels, economics will. If it becomes cheaper to use sail, we'll go back to sail. The cost of fuel will only rise from this point, peak oil is here, so the economics we need for sail should be here now.

Go read Eric Newby's The Last Grain Race [amazon.com] . It's a great book, but it's also relevant: it's the story of the author's trip round the world as a sailhand on the last commercial sailing fleet, in 1938.

His ship, the Moshulu [wikipedia.org] , was one of a fleet of grain freighters that sailed from Europe to Australia, loaded grain there, and then sailed back again. They occupied a particular peculiar economic niche; being specialised sailing ships and technically quite simple, they had very fixed costs. As a result, it was feasible for them to stay in port in Australia for several months while small loads of grain trickled in from the farmers. Steamers were unable to do this, as they needed to be constantly trading to offset the fixed costs. Instead, they'd have to rely on warehousing, which would eat into profits.

It also helped that the Moshulu's owners didn't spend much on maintenance; some of Newby's descriptions are terrifying.

On Newby's trip, she made the voyage from Belfast, Ireland to Port Lincoln, Australia in 82 days, which is pretty good. She could do about 17 knots. Apparently she's now a restaurant ship in New York.

Read his book --- it's fantastic.

USV (2, Interesting)

internerdj (1319281) | more than 5 years ago | (#27569445)

Why have a crew at all? Think of the surprise that the Somali pirates would get if they got on board and found no one. Just a sailboat with a locked server room.

Re:USV (2, Funny)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 5 years ago | (#27569553)

Computer, if you don't open that exit hatch this moment, I shall go straight to your major data banks with a very large axe and give you a reprogramming you'll never forget. Is that clear?

Re:USV (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27569603)

I'm sorry Dave, I can't let you do that.

Re:USV (2, Funny)

Xiph1980 (944189) | more than 5 years ago | (#27569835)

"Dear mister pirate. This ship is equipped with 'ROMG'. This stands for remote operatable machine guns. These are equipped with motion sensors and infra-red sensors. They thus will shoot on anything that either moves, or emits heat. I will activate these in 10... 9... 8..."

Re:USV (4, Insightful)

kpainter (901021) | more than 5 years ago | (#27570301)

"Dear mister pirate. This ship is equipped with 'ROMG'. This stands for remote operatable machine guns.

Way too messy. If the computer had the ability to control the ventilation system and hatch locks, the computer could lock them inside. That is when the nerve agent would be released. Post the video of those bastard's slow, agonizing death on YouTube. That would make them think twice about jacking ships.

Re:USV (2, Interesting)

gknoy (899301) | more than 5 years ago | (#27571351)

Unfortunately, it would be pretty illegal.

Now, if you DID lock them in, and then proceeded to finish one's several-week journey... well, I hope they brought food and water with them. It'd be like Survivor, in some dingy corridors, with rifles and angry pirates.

Re:USV (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27572545)

Laws only apply within 200 nautical miles of a country's shores.

Re:USV (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27571409)

yes, posting it on youtube will be very effective, because as we all know somalia just bypassed korea in broadband internet penetration

Re:USV (1)

tuxgeek (872962) | more than 5 years ago | (#27571631)

Yep, exactly what I was thinking ...
A good fire suppression system would make quick work of intruders without the mess.
Halon or CO2 would be my choice.

Re:USV (1)

robthebloke (1308483) | more than 5 years ago | (#27572073)

Your plan assumes that all the doors have been left unlocked. It wouldn't work if they had to force the doors to get in....

Re:USV (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27569701)

Why have a crew at all? Think of the surprise that the Somali pirates would get if they got on board and found no one. Just a sailboat with a locked server room.

Dude, we're talking about a ship probably using Windows software, there'd be a BSOD at least once along the voyage, inevitably leading to a Big S**t of Debt for the owners when it collides with another ship or a harbor.

Re:USV (1)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 5 years ago | (#27569733)

Or sail with a remote pilot? I mean we have planes that can be controlled by a pilot on the ground... why not ships?

Re:USV (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 5 years ago | (#27569747)

Think of the surprise that the Somali pirates would get if they got on board and found no one. Just a sailboat with a locked server room.

"Just what do you think you're doing, pirate?"

Re:USV (3, Funny)

TheSHAD0W (258774) | more than 5 years ago | (#27569753)

It also means the robot guards can just be programmed to kill anything that moves, without having to bother trying to protect a crew.

'Course, that might mean a massacre at the port if there's a problem shutting down the guards...

Re:USV (1)

value_added (719364) | more than 5 years ago | (#27570091)

'Course, that might mean a massacre at the port if there's a problem shutting down the guards...

Wouln't be a problem in a world where everyone drinks Brawndo: the robot guards would just shoot themselves!

Too far fetched? Just look at the guy working next to you once cubicle over and think for a bit. Then ask him if he's getting enough electrolytes from his "energy drink". If the answer is "Yes", ask him if he likes sex. Or whether he likes money.

Re:USV (1)

snspdaarf (1314399) | more than 5 years ago | (#27572377)

... ask him if he likes sex. Or whether he likes money.

Hmm. Might cause more confusion than I want in my office.

Re:USV (3, Funny)

internerdj (1319281) | more than 5 years ago | (#27570139)

Anti-pirate robot...I bet you could get some R&D funding from the RIAA...

Re:USV (1)

tjonnyc999 (1423763) | more than 5 years ago | (#27570445)

Cut out the middleman - post RIAA agents themselves on the ships.

Re:USV (1)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 5 years ago | (#27570563)

I am against funding for anti-pirate robots unless we can manage to work in ninjas somehow. And zombies.

Re:USV (1)

rrkap (634128) | more than 5 years ago | (#27571405)

An automated machine gun will kill a ninja just as dead as a pirate.

Robot wars on the high sea (1)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 5 years ago | (#27571513)

Heh heh heh... just wait until those grappling hooks are on your hull and desperate armed pirate robots are scurrying up the rope ladders.

Re:USV (3, Funny)

Thelasko (1196535) | more than 5 years ago | (#27570689)

Think of the surprise that the Somali pirates would get if they got on board and found no one.

Taking this one step further.

Imagine a group of Somali pirates boarding a cargo ship. They arrive on the bridge to discover it's empty. The doors to the bridge slam shut and lock behind them. The room fills with sevoflurane gas, [wikipedia.org] rendering the pirates unconscious.

When the pirates regain consciousness, they find themselves in a holding cell. This holding cell is surrounded by other holding cells filled with other Somali pirates who fell for they same trap they did. This ship isn't a cargo ship at all. Its a trap designed to clean up the seas around Somalia.

Re:USV (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 5 years ago | (#27571259)

You could also use a trapdoor floor with spikes at the bottom. Of course the side effect is the pirates might not regain consciousness.

Still a rather expensive way to get rid of pirates - after all it means you need $$$$$$$$ for a huge ship, that may or may not attract pirates.

Re:USV (1)

mapsjanhere (1130359) | more than 5 years ago | (#27571781)

Actually, a set of rotating knife blades seems to be the optimal solution. I think it's called chum. So after a while future visitors would wonder about the large number of sharks looking gleefully at them while they board.

Re:USV (1)

MiniMike (234881) | more than 5 years ago | (#27571677)

That will work great until the extensive Somali pirate hacker network finds out about it and... Ok, I guess it will work great (except for the Russian hackers, and the Chinese hackers, and...).

(replace 'hacker' with 'cracker' if you want to be strict on the terminology)

Security? (3, Funny)

runlevelfour (1329235) | more than 5 years ago | (#27569447)

I'm sure the pirates would love to see computer controlled, slow moving ships. Unless you have robots/zombies guarding them? Or sharks with frickin lasers on their heads?

Re:Security? (1)

Daniel_Staal (609844) | more than 5 years ago | (#27569629)

The current pirate problem is caused by pirates who don't actually have any use for the ship's cargo: They just hold it for ransom. A computer-controlled ship with no way to override would be less useful to them: They could destroy it, but they can't hold it up or delay it significantly.

Re:Security? (2, Interesting)

bcmm (768152) | more than 5 years ago | (#27570053)

Even better, crews get better ransoms than cargo. You'd probably still require humans for anything desirable like a weapons shipment, but Somali pirates generally don't care about other cargos.

And it's much easier to have a policy of never paying the ransom if there are no human hostages.

Re:Security? (1)

Daniel_Staal (609844) | more than 5 years ago | (#27570765)

Another bonus: It makes 'just blow them up' a much more acceptable option.

Re:Security? (2, Interesting)

bcmm (768152) | more than 5 years ago | (#27571619)

It just occurred to me: until ships can be unmanned, why not have a saferoom for the crew? In the event of pirates boarding the ship, they could retreat to a bulletproof room and lock themselves in, depriving the pirates of any hostages to keep the appropriate nation's special forces away with. Being motivated by profit rather than ideology means the pirates don't want to die, so they can't really threaten to blow the whole ship up.

Re:Security? (2, Insightful)

Petronius Arbiter (548328) | more than 5 years ago | (#27572021)

The ship did have a safe room according to news reports. That's why the pirates took only the captain.

150 years ago, British Foreign Secretary Palmerston observed that "Taking a wasps' nest... is more effective than catching the wasps one by one". - http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7991512.stm [bbc.co.uk]

Also consider Julius Caesar's experience being taken by pirates. There was a politician who carried out his promise.

Re:Security? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27570411)

The current pirate problem is caused by pirates who don't actually have any use for the ship's cargo: They just hold it for ransom. A computer-controlled ship with no way to override would be less useful to them: They could destroy it, but they can't hold it up or delay it significantly.

So you really think that nations around the world will be happy to have super-size cargo ships sailing around the coast, the luxury resorts, the marine bays, the ports, etc. on full-automatic with possibly millions of barrels of crude oil... and NO way to tell the thing to stop in case of malfunction?

Sorry, there WILL be remote "kill switches". And these, just like any other computer system, will have ways to exploit them.
The scenario of keeping at least two or three crew members is much more likely than full automation.

Re:Security? (1)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | more than 5 years ago | (#27570889)

If it has a propulsion system, it can be delayed- most likely at a very low cost.

Sails: Grapeshot
Prop: Cables/Nets

Either: Toss a cable to one side of the ship and tow it in circles.

Re:Security? (1)

dunkelfalke (91624) | more than 5 years ago | (#27570719)

here [slashdot.org] is the answer

Windmill != Ship (3, Funny)

onion2k (203094) | more than 5 years ago | (#27569463)

We have computer controlled windmills, why not computer controlled sailing cargo vessels?

INAM (I'm Not A Miller) and I'm not up-to-date with the tech, but as far as I'm aware windmills can't plough into harbours destroying themselves and their cargo, potentially killing lots of people at the same time.

Re:Windmill != Ship (5, Insightful)

Neil Watson (60859) | more than 5 years ago | (#27569551)

Neither computers nor crews pilot vessels into harbours. Harbour pilots do.

Re:Windmill != Ship (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27570725)

Neither computers nor crews pilot vessels into harbours. Harbour pilots do.

That is, assuming that the computer-controlled ship is operating properly.

IANDQ (I Am Not Don Quixote)
But last time I checked, if a windmill malfunctioned and the computer controlling it went berserk, I don't think it would do a whole lot of rampaging around the countryside wrecking up the place, and potentially spilling billions of gallons of crude oil.

Re:Windmill != Ship (1)

AvitarX (172628) | more than 5 years ago | (#27571153)

Really?

http://xkcd.com/556/ [xkcd.com]

Yes, I'm aware this makes me un-original and lame.

Re:Windmill != Ship (1)

Thelasko (1196535) | more than 5 years ago | (#27570763)

Mod parent up please.

Computers could be used to navigate in the open ocean, and harbor pilots [wikipedia.org] could continue to navigate through dangerous waters the same way they have for centuries.

Re:Windmill != Ship (1)

GameMaster (148118) | more than 5 years ago | (#27570221)

Wow, are you behind the times. You should see the newest generation of windmills...

Re:Windmill != Ship (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27571499)

Wow, are you behind the times. You should see the newest generation of windmills...

http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/alternative_energy_revolution.jpg

Re:Windmill != Ship (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27571287)

Don Quixote begs to differ...

Sails for container ships, slashdot 2007 (2, Informative)

Hozza (1073224) | more than 5 years ago | (#27569469)

There's already some good ideas about putting sails on container ships (that don't get in the way of loading, like masts would do)

See slashdot from 2007:

http://hardware.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/11/26/1925210 [slashdot.org]

Re:Sails for container ships, slashdot 2007 (1)

tjonnyc999 (1423763) | more than 5 years ago | (#27569861)

And here's an idea for reducing turbulence & drag, by adding submerged hull sections so the main hull is above water: http://www.swath.com/concept.htm [swath.com] .

It's been around since 1938, but not actually used until the late 80's, when some luxury-yacht builders, ahem, floated, the concept.

I can see someone building a SWATH container ship, outfitting it with a kite-sail array, and enjoying a huge reduction in operational costs.

Robo-sailor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27569499)

Yeah... Let's send robot ships out there to travel to a port and then wonder WTF happened when it doesn't arrive... Did the scurvy pirates get it or did it drift off course or did it sink?

Re:Robo-sailor (5, Funny)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 5 years ago | (#27569563)

Yeah... Let's send robot ships out there to travel to a port and then wonder WTF happened when it doesn't arrive... Did the scurvy pirates get it or did it drift off course or did it sink?

If only they could invent some type of Global Positioning System. I can see it now... you would need a couple dozen or so satellites to ensure coverage over the planet. They would broadcast some type of signal. Then all you would need is some type of devices to read the signal from two or three of these satellites to get a 2D or 3D positioning.

*runs off to patent office*

Weight (1)

hhaarrvv (1521241) | more than 5 years ago | (#27569505)

Im guessing a modern container ship weighs just a lil bit more than even the Preussen. You would need some pretty serious sails to move a container ship.

Re:Weight (1)

snspdaarf (1314399) | more than 5 years ago | (#27569687)

That would be my guess, too. I would like to see the weight of a fully loaded Preussen (European, not African), compared with a fully loaded modern container ship, plus the sail area needed to move them both at 13 knots. I don't expect sail power would scale to the size of modern container ships.

Re:Weight (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27569803)

Speed from Sail power is proportional to drag, not weight.

Re:Weight (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27569991)

Why build the ships so large? A lot of smaller ships concentrates less cargo in any given package spreading out any risk.

Likewise if you automate as mentioned above you're mostly limited by how fast you load or unload.

Re:Weight (2, Informative)

Retric (704075) | more than 5 years ago | (#27570243)

It reduces drag relative to cargo and increases stability in bad weather which protects the cargo.

Re:Weight (5, Informative)

tjonnyc999 (1423763) | more than 5 years ago | (#27570351)

LOL, t3h funn3h.

I don't expect sail power would scale to the size of modern container ships.

Sure, a sail array may not be the best solution for getting a container ship underway from a standstill, but once the ship reaches open ocean, and a course is set, sails can be used to replace some of the engines' thrust, saving fuel.

Considering that container ships consume 100-400 metric tons of fuel per day, even a 5-10% savings would be pretty damn significant.

(Of course, 100-400 is a very broad range - the 4,250-TEU Arafura consumes ~65 MT / day, while the 11,000-TEU Emma Maersk chows down on 350 MT per day, so yeah, YMMV).

Marine Diesel is about $ 420-450 per metric ton [bunkerworld.com] right now.

As an intellectual exercise, let's take a 6,000-TEU ship consuming 100 MT/day, making the Shanghai-Long Beach run at express speed (15 days), and let's take the cost of MDO at $ 435.00 per metric ton.
At 5% savings, the sail array will save $ 2,175 / day. Multiply by 15 days = $ 32,625 saved per trip.

To put this into even more of a perspective, the average lifetime of a container ship is 27 years. Assume it's running 75% of the year. (27*365)-25% = 7,391 days. Take $ 2,125 saved per day * 7,391 days = $ 15,705,875 saved.

Is $ 15.7 million enough to pay for the sail array + computers? Seems like it to me.

Re:Weight (3, Informative)

tjonnyc999 (1423763) | more than 5 years ago | (#27570491)

Hmm, looks like 5-10% was a very pessimistic estimate. If this article [popularmechanics.com] is correct (thanks, Aceticon!), up to 35% could be saved. You do the math.

Financial fail ... (4, Insightful)

oneiros27 (46144) | more than 5 years ago | (#27571965)

Those numbers only work when your personal interest rate is 0, which is rarely the case.

Realistically, you need to adjust for the time value of money [wikipedia.org] . ($100 now is worth more than $100 27 years from now, as I could make interest off of it)

So, if we assume that the savings are every month, with a 3% interest rate compounded monthly, we'd have (12x27) payments of about $49,617 each with 0.25% interest per period:

PV(A) = (49_617 / 0.0025) * ( 1 - (1 / 1.0025**(12*27) ) )

Which works out to just over $11 million. The install cost would have to be less than this, to deal with the reoccurring costs of maintenance of the new system.

Oh ... and if the interest rate were 6%? That $11mil estimate would be cut to under $8mil, or about 1/2 of your estimate. In a good market where we might be able to make 18% return, over 27 years, it's worth less than $3.3M.

Now, I don't know how much container ships cost, but if I can add another ship and move more containers, that may give me a better benefit for the same cost.

(and, I know you later said that the actual savings were higher -- but the point is, you should _never_ just multiply reoccurring costs or savings by the number of periods to get the equivalent present value, especially for periods of years.)

Re:Weight (1)

tucuxi (1146347) | more than 5 years ago | (#27571979)

Great comment, should be up-modded.

On the other hand, you forgot to account for sail array maintenance costs, additional crew training, and the extra risk of sail failure in the event of harsh weather - not that I have much of an idea of sailing, but the investment is not completely risk-free. Most container ships don't have sails on them, and diesel engine expertise is much more widely found than sail array expertise; this makes maintenance harder that it could be.

There is bound to be a first-mover risk (as well as rewards) to the venture.

Scaling of ships (1)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 5 years ago | (#27571809)

The other respondents haven't made this point, but it needs to be explained. The power to drive a ship scales with drag, roughly proportional to the hull surface area. The wind power scales to the sail area which, if you scale up the whole ship isometrically, increases directly with the hull area. Nice, isn't it? That's why big sailing ships and small sailing ships look so similar in terms of the apparent area of sail.

It isn't quite as simple as that because the sail supports increase in weight as rather more than the cube of the length, so the superstructure does get heavier in proportion as the ship gets bigger. The design has to be optimised considerably. But there is no reason why sail power should not scale, using modern CAD to do the design work.

Energy out of the atmosphere (1)

Ckwop (707653) | more than 5 years ago | (#27569515)

I've often wondered if we converted all our power generation to wind, whether we'd replace global warming with rapid global cooling? After all, wind is really just presure differentials caused by asymmetric heating.

Is there a chance that by trying to save the planet, we replace a disaster that turns half the world in to a desert with a disaster that places northern Europe under a kilometer of ice?

Simon

Re:Energy out of the atmosphere (1)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 5 years ago | (#27569653)

I can't say I follow. Heat creates the wind. Using that wind doesn't cause that heating to never take place. It certainly doesn't remove any energy from the system as a whole. Perhaps I am missing something...

(I love having to wait 5 minutes between posts).

Re:Energy out of the atmosphere (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27569679)

Eh... not likely, I think you're vastly underestimating the amount of wind power there is in the atmosphere. Most of it isn't a few hundred meters from the surface anyway.

I think the more immediate concern. . . (1)

JSBiff (87824) | more than 5 years ago | (#27569877)

I think the more immediate concern would be the potential impact on wildlife from having massive wind farms. Would large arrays of wind turbines potentially have any adverse affects on bird migrations, or even just birds in general? Or bats? What sort of injury/death risk do wind turbines pose for birds and bats?

It seems like nothing man can do can have zero impact on the environment, ultimately.

Re:I think the more immediate concern. . . (2, Interesting)

jbeaupre (752124) | more than 5 years ago | (#27570637)

This may not count as zero impact in the short term, but ...

As kids we visited the atomic museum (I forget the name) in Los Alamos, NM. The had some sort of simulator where you could turn dials corresponding to different human activities. The output was a list of various things such as pollution, hunger, population, and so on. AT least a dozen. All of them had a red, yellow, or green lights. A few had numerical output.

So we started turning this knob, then that. Lights would go back and forth between red, yellow, and green. Suddenly the whole board lit up green. Except population, which was red and said 0. I guess we solved most of the worlds problems.

So I'm reluctant to say there's nothing we can do with zero impact. But I'm even more reluctant to try the one idea that might work!

Re:I think the more immediate concern. . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27571255)

Yup, kill some birds.

Skyscrapper kill more birds on average than a whole wind farm, yet it is build by human. Airplanes and trucks kill birds too.

Even the not so tall house with clear glass can kill birds, too.

Environmentalist like to use that argument, even if it doesn't make sense.

It's better to whack some bird than to pollute the air/water with fossiel fuel or chemical.

And wind is one of the energy with can harness without a lot of risk.

Re:Energy out of the atmosphere (1)

rhyder128k (1051042) | more than 5 years ago | (#27570911)

This is something I've been wondering about for the last ten years or so, but I've never been able to get much an answer out of people in the know. It does seem naive to suppose that the world is just so big, nothing we do will have an impact.

The closest I've seen to an acknowledgement of these issues was from Arthur C Clarke. He speculated that as the byproduct of energy conversion is heat, these renewable energy sources will be dumping extra heat into the atmosphere.

Re:Energy out of the atmosphere (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#27571413)

The atmosphere is a lot more dynamic than that. The sun hits the earth with more than 100 terawatts of power; on average, the earth has to radiate all of that power away, or it heats up. As you add more energy, you increase the amount of energy that is radiated away; if you absorb energy, you decrease the amount of energy that is radiated away.

Human activity currently averages at about 16 terawatts, but the net result of the majority of that activity is to release heat into the atmosphere (which minimizes the amount of energy actually be removed from the earth system...). So there might be some amount of energy that gets stored (but it is probably small), but for the most part, human use of solar energy looks a lot like the wind (moving energy from high availability to an area with lower availability), and it is unlikely that the effects would be sudden (because even if 50% of human power was captured from solar energy, it would only account for 5% of the system).

Cost of the sailing equipment (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27569541)

As someone with experience building/outfitting a sailboat I can say that the main issue is cost.

The fact is that sailboats are built quite differently from motorboats, hull shape, ballast, draft, etc.

In addition to that the rig (sails/spars/blocks/cordage) are quite expensive, roughly 10 times more expensive than an engine that can perform the same job.

Hmm.. does it have to be a SAIL boat? (2, Interesting)

way2trivial (601132) | more than 5 years ago | (#27569863)

can it be a big mother mounted windmill and an electric motor???

bonus being- no tacking into the wind-- rotate the damn windmill and head on into it...

Re:Hmm.. does it have to be a SAIL boat? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27570495)

No, since perpetual motion machines haven't been invented yet and it would have to be even better than that. Since if you want the ship to move in any other direction than the wind is blowing, the windmill would have to generate more energy to move the ship in the desired direction than the wind direction and that is impossible. If it worked, the ship wouldn't need wind at all because drag would obviously rotate the windmill when the ship is moving and then we'd have more than a perpetual motion machine.

it's not perpetual motion- energy is being added (1)

way2trivial (601132) | more than 5 years ago | (#27571187)

the wind is adding energy to the situation

if you had a very efficient windmill, and a very aerodynamic & hydrodynamic boat-- why is it impossible?

picture a pulley mounted on the sea floor, through which a rope connects two boats, both 100 miles downwind from the pulley

BOTH are of equal mass.

one boat has a large sail and is angled to go with the wind-away from the pulley,
the other boat is very aerodynamic and pointed into the wind

you are suggesting the aerodynamic boat won't move into the wind?

imagine the aerodynamic boat has a windmill mounted on it.
yes- it will be far more efficient to have the boat going in the same direction as the wind
but is it absolutely required? there is no tipping point where windpower can generate enough electricity to move a ship against the wind?

this blade http://www.gepower.com/prod_serv/products/wind_turbines/en/downloads/ge_15_brochure.pdf [gepower.com] produces 1500 KW

this story
http://solarfeeds.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=5404:cargo-ship-powered-by-solar-panels&catid=129:ggs&Itemid=249 [solarfeeds.com] says that a 40kw solar setup supplies 2%
40 going into 1500 37.5 times gives us 75% (37.5*2) of the energy needed for the ship
if one of the GE turbines could supply 75% of the energy needed, two of them would supply 150% of the energy needed-- as I readily accept we are going into the wind- the ship is providing one hell of a lot of counterforce- but it could not be overcome with a third?

Re:it's not perpetual motion- energy is being adde (4, Insightful)

pi_rules (123171) | more than 5 years ago | (#27571411)

You can not move forward by capturing energy being used to push you backwards. To move forward would require more than 100% of the energy that you're capturing. It doesn't work.

Re:it's not perpetual motion- energy is being adde (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27571933)

You can not move forward by capturing energy being used to push you backwards.

Except that you're not capturing the energy pushing you back, you're capturing the energy spinning the blades of the windmill. Some portion of that wind is pushing you backwards (at 45 degrees, you can approximate 50% of the wind's force pushing backwards and 50% turning the blade), along with the portion of wind pushing back on the masts, the hull, the people standing on deck, etc. If the energy transferred from the wind pushing you backwards is greater than the amount of energy transferred by the windmill to the engines to the water, you go backwards.

I think it's unlikely that turbine and engine efficiency is high enough to motor directly into the wind with such a setup.

Re:Hmm.. does it have to be a SAIL boat? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#27571241)

Well, you're right and wrong. Actually, it's entirely possible to put a VAWT on top of a ship and move it. However, it's somewhat unlikely that you could get efficiency over just having a sail, meaning that the amount of energy you'd get from the wind would be less, which in turn would mean that you would not be able to sail as many points from the wind as a real sailing ship. Basically, you would pretty much always have to follow the winds. It's not impossible to construct a route like that, though.

when the lights go (hacked) out... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27569579)

will it cause us problems reading each other's e-medical records, & banking inf.?

Infinity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27569607)

put some turbines on them cargo ships

In a way, it's already hapenning (4, Interesting)

Aceticon (140883) | more than 5 years ago | (#27569749)

SkySail: using the a computer controlled parasail to improve fuel efficiency. Article http://www.popularmechanics.com/outdoors/boating/4235055.html [popularmechanics.com]

Re:In a way, it's already hapenning (1)

jockeys (753885) | more than 5 years ago | (#27570525)

that always amused me, it's just a big powerkite with stronger lines. what they aren't aware of, it seems, is that if they figure8 it like a racekite they can actually move faster than simply running before the wind, thanks to the miracle of high-aspect kites and apparent winds.

Costs (1)

pete-classic (75983) | more than 5 years ago | (#27570049)

This is a great idea, assuming that the reduced costs equate to reduced shipping rates that equal or exceed the depreciation of the goods being shipped . . .

I mean, having your goods sitting on a ship 2.6 times as long as necessary isn't exactly a money-making idea.

-Peter

Re:Costs (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#27570693)

There is already a speed/cost tradeoff curve for shipping, this would, presumably, just add another option to it. If you want really fast; but really costly, you use an airplane. Modestly fast; but fairly cheap, would be an engine driven boat. Slow; but very cheap, would be a sailboat.

For things like bulk shipments of ore, which are enormously heavy and bulky; but not all that valuable per ton and have reasonably predictable demand levels, a slower and cheaper shipping method could be quite useful. I doubt we'll see it for mail service and hot new electronics, though.

Automation is overrated (1)

sjbe (173966) | more than 5 years ago | (#27570247)

...why not computer controlled sailing cargo vessels?"

They are computer controlled to a degree but the reason they aren't unmanned has to do with the fact that navigating a boat is a remarkably difficult endeavor and our technology available to the task is both extremely expensive and insufficiently flexible to the wide variety of sea conditions and probably unreliable in such a hostile operating environment. That of course presumes it is possible at all to do it safely which is highly unlikely. Add in the fact that unmanned vessels would be remarkably attractive target for piracy and that should pretty much seal the deal.

The solution is not sails... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27570443)

It is 200 hundred somali men doing "the helicopter" standing nude on the ship. That would generate sufficient horizontal force to power the ship.

storms (1)

hey (83763) | more than 5 years ago | (#27570543)

Everyone's talking about pirates. Seems to me that storms are more likely... the longer you are at sea.

Re:storms (1)

tjonnyc999 (1423763) | more than 5 years ago | (#27571305)

SWATH technology reduces that risk. See my comment above.

Complicated means expensive (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27570723)

Modern cargo vessels keep a crew of trained mechanics (more than one per vessel) and a machine shop on board.

If your mechanic cannot repair or fabricate a replacement for a component that goes out during a voyage, you are SOL until a replacement arrives - which requires a small delivery ship to get out to you, fast. Which requires fossil fuels.

The sail that would get a modern cargo vessel up to thirteen knots -- for an appreciable portion of the voyage -- is some seriously highly engineered stuff. And pretty large to boot. You're not repairing or replacing that without skilled mechanics/engineers and a well-equipped and specialised machine shop.

Maintaining the speed of a modern cargo vessel already underway through the use of a sail is far more feasible - and there are versions in use.

A modern cargo vessel can be operated and maintained while under way by a relatively common skillset and materials. The more exotic you require the skillset and materials to be, the higher the cost of operating and maintaining the vessel.

That's because there's a shipping glut. (4, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 5 years ago | (#27571083)

Cargo ship speeds go up and down with the costs of ship charter and fuel, and with the demands of customers. Read "The Box" [amazon.com] , a history of shipping containers and the ships that move them.

Right now, the Baltic Dry Index is down to where it was around 2000, after a huge 5x spike last year. So there's a huge glut of available container ship capacity, charters are cheap, and freight rates are way down. So operators have to optimize for low cost at the expense of speed and throughput.

There's also no big demand for speed from the customers. Much of what's being shipped is going into storage anyway. Unsold cars are piling up near ports [bloggingstocks.com] , filling up storage and spilling over into rented parking lots. That's presumably happening with containerized commodities too, in cases where the buyer can't just cancel the order.

It's one of those things that happens in a depression.

Need sailors to vette sea stories (4, Informative)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 5 years ago | (#27572533)

Some moron did the article. A moron who has never been to sea, obviously.

I challenge any weekend warrior to find me any cargo ships that make 26 knots, anywhere, today, last year, or last decade. In an emergency, a FEW of them might make that kind of speed, but they can't sustain it day after day, like naval ships can. A blown boiler is sure to ruin anyone's day.

Warships didn't even make a habit of running that fast, 30 years ago, when fuel was cheap. The first time I crossed the Atlantic, I asked "How long?" like any kid in the back seat of a car, on a long trip.

The answer: "We can be in Portugal in 5 days, if we burn x gallons per minute, or we can be there in 11 days, if we burn y gallons per minute. So, we'll be there in 11 days."

The destroyer I served on was capable of doing about 35 knots (officialy 30+) and we could catch ANY commercial freighter, tanker, container ship, or whatever.

IF, and I say IF, cargo ships were capable of 26 knots as the article says, THEN, they would be transiting the hi danger piracy zones at that speed, and the pirates wouldn't be catching them.

Many 19th century sailing ships could routinely take most commercial traffic in a race, even BEFORE companies started slowing down to conserve fuel. Revisit the sailing times for ships such as the Cutty Sark, then look at the sailing times for today's tankers and container ships. Real sailing times, not "best case scenario with favorable winds" sailing times. ;)

 

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