Commercial fishing and solar energy

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Commercial fishing businesses tend to consume significant amounts of energy, but may be able to offset their energy expenses by turning to solar panels and other distributed electric generation.

The winter fishing fleet of Northeast Harbor, Maine.

According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the U.S. commercial fishing sector landed $5.3 billion in seafood last year.  Alaska led the nation in total catch value in 2011, landing $1.9 billion in fish and shellfish.  Massachusetts came in second at $570 million, with Maine coming in third at $426 million.

Catching this seafood comes at a price.  Diesel and other marine fuels account for a significant fraction of commercial fishermen's expenses.  Onshore, electricity powers stationary facilities like freezers, refrigerators and pumps for holding tanks, with seafood processing operations consuming even more power.

The location of many commercial fishing businesses -- typically located on the coast, often on a pier or wharf exposed to the sun and wind -- may create an opportunity for fishermen to offset their energy costs by producing their own electricity.  One Maine lobsterman recently added a 10-kilowatt solar array to his wharf in Harpswell. Funded in part by an $11,750 grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Energy for America Program, last month Potts Harbor Lobster added 44 solar panels to two roofs on the Reversing Falls Lobster wharf in South Harpswell.

In addition to USDA REAP grants, additional incentives are available that may shorten the payback period for distributed generation projects at commercial fishing facilities.  For example, Maine's net energy billing law allows consumers to use solar or other distributed generation to effectively spin their electricity meters backwards.  Consumers in almost every state can use similar net metering programs to sell excess power back to the grid, offsetting their electricity bill.  Other states, like Massachusetts and New Jersey, allow consumers to produce and sell solar renewable energy credits (sometimes called SRECs) from grid-connected solar photovoltaic panels.  These SREC sales can create a significant revenue stream for people and businesses who develop qualified renewable power projects.

Not every site may be well-suited for distributed generation projects.  Given relatively high capital costs for many small renewable power projects, payback periods may be too long for some businesses to make the investment.  However, as the cost of electric transmission increases across the country, the traditionally self-reliant fishing industry may increasingly turn to solar energy and other distributed generation technologies.


Kate Dunkin said...

Great post Todd! I came across your blog while I was doing some research on San Francisco solar power and I'm happy I did because this was a very informative and interesting post. Thank you for sharing this with us!

Jess Holmes said...

Great post. A worldwide switch to commercial solar power would completely change our negative impact on the planet. One step at a time, I suppose.

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kingkinu said...

Hi, my brother always use solar panel for fishing. The solar panel keeps the battery charged, thereby obviating the need to keep the engine running while the boat is anchored. It is estimated that by switching off the engine for three hours, a fishing boat can save 30 litres of fuel a day. thanks!!
LA solar

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