KANYAKUMARI: In a cost-cutting exercise, P Sahayaraj, a deep-sea fisherman from Chinnathurai near Thoothoor in Kanyakumari district, installed solar panels in his boat two years ago. Today, Sahayaraj is happy for his decision as he saves at least 2,500 to 6,200 litres of diesel a year. The solar panels power all the lights, navigational equipment and other electronic items like DVD player in Sahayaraj's boat.
In 2012, Sahayaraj and S Theoclose from Puthanthurai installed solar energy panels in their boats and three more boat owners joined them. The fishermen of Thoothoor region put out to sea on a 30 to 45-day fishing trip, utilising as much as 8,000 to 10,000 litres of diesel per trip. In a year, they spend more than 250 days fishing in the sea. Their boats are equipped with nearly 23 lights, including headlights, signal lights, wheelhouse and store lights, and navigational equipment like GPS, wireless and echo sounder (sonar).
Sahayaraj and others have installed 1KV solar panels that cost around 1.8 lakh. National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) has funded one-third of the cost and a portion came as subsidy from the department of new and renewable energy.
Association of Deep-Sea Going Artisanal Fishermen, a non-governmental organisation based in Thoothoor, gave 23,000 to modify their old boats and set up solar panels on their wheelhouse.
Vincent Jain of the association said, "Harnessing solar energy helps fishermen to save diesel and reduce carbon emission. While burning every litre of diesel, a boat emits 2.6kg of carbon and such emission could be avoided using solar power," he said. Martin Pragasam, general manager, NABARD, Kanyakumari district said they have sanctioned 9 lakh for a project to equip eight boats with solar power. "We will be completing the project by March," he said.
Another benefit is that fishermen now don't have to keep their boat engines running. The deep-sea fishers keep boat engines running so that battery does not drain. Failure to restart engine due to battery drain means getting stranded in the sea. There are 600 deep-sea boats in Thoothoor and the solar trend is expected to gain momentum. "Most of the Sinhalese fishermen we met in mid-sea use solar energy panels in their boats. But in Thoothoor, the shift to solar power is slow, but it will pick up in coming years," said D Sharlin, a deep sea fisherman.