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Thinking about putting in an electric engine

Thinking about an electric engine

Location: my narrowboat

I care about the environment, and knowing how bad they are for the environment it has always bothered me to have a diesel engine running my boat. Also the fact that my engine overheats on the canal if it runs too long does not fill me with confidence for going along rivers. This has made me start thinking about putting in an electric engine.

Before you all start, I know that to charge up my batteries I will probably have to run a generator, which is just as bad for the environment as running the diesel engine (or nearly so as it is smaller so takes up less fuel and runs at its most efficient as diesel motors like to be run at close to full capacity). I have an answer for you, solar panels and a wind turbine.

I currently have six solar panels on my boat and they provide me with a lot of charge in the spring, summer and autumn. I also want to invest in a wind turbine for my boat that will give me power through more of the year, and even at night. Also I do not plan to move my boat everyday so there will be plenty of time to charge the batteries up before having to move on again so the generator usage will be vastly reduced.

That being said, if I am going to put an electric engine in to my boat then I need to know how it all works. This is because there are not many places yet that know about fixing electric engines on boats as they are not that common yet.

There is the start of my electrically powered boat journey. At first the task seemed impossible, it was too huge and I didn’t know enough about electrics, then just as I was about to give up I came across this website: Sailing Cinderella, I know that this is about a sailing boat, and I will need a far more powerful engine and better batteries but just simplifying how it all works in a step by step way was a godsend. After reading how he put in his electric motor I had an idea how it all worked.

Then I knew the kinds of questions that I had to ask. The main questions that I have to ask are:

1. What size engine do I need?

2. What type of motor should I use?

3. What size battery bank do I need to run the motor?

4. Which controllers should I use?

5. Is there anything else I need to know?

From these main questions, I then have some sub question which are:

1. What is the difference between a two pole, four pole and six pole motor?

2. How powerful do I need the generator to be?

3. Which type of batteries should I use?

4. Where can I get all this stuff without it costing the earth?

On searching about a bit more on the internet I found an account of someone who had converted their 38 foot narrowboat to an electric engine, (his website is here) that was very informative. At only a foot shorter than my boat the power requirements would be similar. His conversion cost around £20,000 though. I don’t have that sort of money, but on the other hand he did it many years ago when everything was newer and the prices were higher. Also solar panels have come on a lot since then and now provide a significant amount of power compared to his 5W. In addition, I would be looking to do a lot of the work myself in installing it so that I know how everything works.

So far in my thinking about putting in an electric engine, the advantages of an electric engine are; better for the environment, can’t run out of diesel, quieter running, and I would have more power. The disadvantages are; uses more battery power so I would have to have more batteries which are more expensive, the initial cost of setting it up, and I would have to run a generator to top up my batteries so that I would have enough power for general everyday life.

An electric engine using a lynch motor
An electric engine, see how small it is and it can power a 47 foot narrowboat

My current diesel engine
My current diesel engine, look how large and cumbersome it is compared to the electric one

The other advantage is that with my solar power and wind turbine (which I plan to get), in the spring, summer and autumn the batteries will recharge themselves.

As you may have gathered I like the idea of an electric engine, and I suppose the next thing to do is to try to answer some of my questions. I am going to set myself some aims to fulfil before I write the next post on electric engines. Hopefully this will motivate me to get my research done.

Aim:

1. Find out what size electric engine I will need

2. Find out about the different types of motor there are

3. Save up some money to pay for everything

If you enjoyed reading this article then you may enjoy my post about solar panels, you can find it if you follow this link : solar panel article

3 Responses

  1. The motor shown in your picture Is a Lynch motor. Assuming you are prepared to go for a lower power option than diesel at say 10 HP this will require a wattage of 7.5kW and you run for just 4 hours a day that will require 30kWh battery capacity. A single 110Ah 12V battery will provide less than 1kWh in practice when new. You will therefore need 30 batteries with a total weight of about 600kg
    A 100W solar panel with 10 hour usable 50% sunlight will give about 500Wh, you would therefore require 60 solar panels to charge the batteries in one day.

    • So if you only moved for an hour you could fully recharge over 3 days with only 5 (small) panels? Interesting.

      Would suck in winter though.

  2. And forget a wind turbine they are a waste of time,
    I mate of mine just fitted a Vauxhall 1600 petrol engine with a gas conversion kit on it, calor gas is a lot cleaner and more miles per liter

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