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Old 02-06-2016, 11:40   #1
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Electric Houseboat concept

Hey guys!

Looking for comments, ideas, examples, intellectual smackdowns (i.e. "What the hell were you thinking?), etc.

I'm currently tossing around the idea of an electric drive MOG (Marine Off-grid) houseboat for live-aboard similar to the MOG Canal Boat I've come across recently. Basically, take an old 40' girl who needs rehab with dead/missing engines (2) and convert to dual electric DC drives with solar and wind power. An ac genset could be a backup.

The boat is for use on rivers, lakes, and the ICW. Rivers like the Mississippi and Ohio go a lot of places I can get lost in and the ICW hooks me up to all the rest!

Shaft drive, outdrive, electric outboard (not sure about that...) and the best blend for mix of quality and pricing. Was even thinking of electric car motors rather than marine drives due to the huge markup by attaching the word "marine" to it.

Feel free to get technical as I do AC/DC power generation for AT&T for the last 16 years.
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Old 02-06-2016, 11:48   #2
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Re: Electric Houseboat concept

Can't remember the name for the life of me but someone did exactly that - pulled off mast and rigging and installed a 'roof' of solar panel and an electric engine. Seemed to work out ok!
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Old 02-06-2016, 15:41   #3
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Re: Electric Houseboat concept

Finally an electrically propelled vessel idea that has a reasonable use case!

Go for it!

(As long as you can afford the $100,000 or so that it will cost to get a workable system up and running)
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Old 02-06-2016, 16:37   #4
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Electric Houseboat concept

In my opinion, you want to find an honest house boat, big boxy barge looking thing that has a flat roof the size of the boat, roof usually used as the place to grill out, big porch kind of thing but will provide huge Solar space. It's Solar capacity that in my opinion that will be the limiting factor, assuming you can live with mostly floating down a river using motor for steerage more than anything else, I think you could make it work. Forget wind, too expensive and not much wind where you will be anyway.
But as has been said, the gotcha is its gonna cost at least ten times what two 20 Hp or so outboards will, have less range, will be a Science experiment with that kind of reliability etc.
10 KW of Solar will cost more than $10,000 I think and we haven't stored that power yet, maybe 5K or so for batteries?
Run maybe every third day or so?

Forget electric outboards in my opinion as well, maybe you can get a couple of golf cart motors to work depending on vessel size, but forget automobile electric drive, Prius for example is actually I believe electronically controlled AC motors, being driven with about 300 VDC or so. I'm not sure about that, point is it's pretty technical and may not lend itself so well to being hacked, and that high a voltage and huge amperage has to be playing with fire.

Be foolish not to have a back up generator, but if it's big enough to drive the boat, then it will be less efficient than a lighter boat with direct engine drive would be, so I would think 3KW or so to run air conditioners and house loads but not drive the boat.


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Old 02-06-2016, 17:53   #5
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Re: Electric Houseboat concept

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Originally Posted by a64pilot View Post
10 KW of Solar will cost more than $10,000 I think and we haven't stored that power yet, maybe 5K or so for batteries?
I'd budget about 10 times that for a big bank of Lithium batteries that can handle the 800 or so Amps your 10kW of solar can put out.. They make a lot of sense in this application.
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Old 02-06-2016, 18:58   #6
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Re: Electric Houseboat concept

Down river it would probably work fine, but going back up... Keep in mind that the Mississippi averages about 3kn, and routinely has a 5kn current. To make any headway your going to need to be able to maintain 6-8kn. That's a lot of power to provide from just solar panels.

Obviously it depends on the batteries and panels, but figure you could expect to operate 8 hours every 3-4 days. Assuming you can hit 6kn that means you are going to average 6 miles a day...
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Old 02-06-2016, 19:12   #7
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Re: Electric Houseboat concept

Let's just conclude that you should do a lot of calculating and a lot of comparing costs before you invest money in this idea rather than in an outboard engine. That's much nicer than "What the hell were you thinking?", and we should all have dreams.
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Old 02-06-2016, 21:03   #8
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Re: Electric Houseboat concept

Thanks for the replies!

At the moment, it's not just an intellectual exercise, but a thought process towards a reality, if conceivable. It's not for constant cruising so much as for liveaboard and cruising to new locations now and then. I want the ability of 10 knots on dead calm for river travel (2-3 apparent going upriver?). My dad ran the rivers and ICW in tugs and pushers for decades and knows more than I ever could about the Mississippi and Ohio and the ICW from Brownsville, Tx to Florida.

Here is the model, though this boat uses electric outboards. It is a 40' modified "skipjack" design weighing in at 12klbs:
MOG Canal Boat
Mog Blog
Here are the specifications:

  • Length 39 feet, 11 inches. (12.17 meter)
  • Beam 11 feet, 4 inches. (3.45 meter)
  • Draft 1 foot, 6 inches (.45 meter)
  • Air draft (bridge clearance) 8 feet, 2 inches. (2.49 meter)
  • Weight about 12,000 pounds. (5443 kg) 6 photovoltaic modules of 235 watts each (1410 watts total) using only about half the roof array area.
  • 2 10 hp inboard or outboard (used now) electric motors using eCycle motor technology. eCycle, Inc. – Electric Outboard | HydroComp
  • 1 60 hp auxiliary engine (additional speed or auxiliary/emergency use). Top speed 7 knots without use of auxiliary engine, with a cruise of 2-3 knots (calm conditions).
  • Full head (composting) with sink and separate, enclosed, full standing shower. Interior height 82 inches throughout with two door/windows onto foredeck.
  • Main entrance door from aft cockpit.
  • Forward saloon has open floor for chairs or berths and the aft salon has a fold down queen bed. Head and galley are midship, between saloon and salon.
  • No through holes in the hull below water line (inboard and rudder shaft(s) excepted). Probable foamed lead or lithium ion batteries 2013 (total storage 10 to 30 kw).
  • Currently, standard lead acid batteries. Alkaline fuel cell slated for 2013 from Apollo Energy Systems.
  • Solar hot water with propane back up. Galley has refrigerator, propane Force10 stove/oven with oven in an Avonite & Corian counter/sink unit.
================================================== ========

Of course the motor sizes will be stepped up to match the weight of the boat. Fiberglass or aluminum hull, whichever is lightest (alum probably). I'm also considering jets instead of props.


Motor:
I can get a marine system for $10k-15k each or use similarly powered standard brushless DC motors for a lot less. The support electronics can be assembled individually.

Batteries:
LiFePO4 12.8vdc @ 200ah = $1500 ea
or go with a more old school type; less money, but more occupied space and weight. Right now, I have 27 Optima SC34M and 5 Optima D31m blue-tops.

Solar:
6-8 420w monocrystalline high efficiency cells. Charging system is capable of 5-6 hour recharges to LiFePO4 with enough solar cell or genset output.

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Old 02-06-2016, 21:21   #9
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Re: Electric Houseboat concept

You do electrical work...

2 X 10kw motors X 8 hours = 160kwh that's your draw
8 X 420w X 6hours = 20.16kwh is your production

So basically for every day you spend on the hook not using any power with perfect solar capture you can motor one hour. Even at 10kn which is unlikely for a boat this size, you are still averaging 10 miles a day, less in current.

The reality is that solar simply doesn't provide enough power for propulsion. If you want to go this route then you need to start seriously looking at a large diesel generator to drive the electrical engines for anything more than in and out of a marina.

Bigger or heavier battery banks allow you to run longer when you do run, but also force you to dedicate more volume and weight to battery storage. It's a downward spiral.
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Old 02-06-2016, 21:47   #10
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Re: Electric Houseboat concept

There is already a yacht sized Solar Catamaran in Florida. Very nice interior, proven concept (built).
Last I saw, it was for sale in South Florida. I think a CF member built it or had a part in the design of it. I don't have a link for it, but you might find it mentioned in the CF archives if you do a search or via Google.

Of course there was a very large solar cat that went around the world last year.

Here is another Solar Cat design in Australia (where there are big solar cats).
46 foot Solar Cat


And here is a 33 foot Diesel-Electric-Solar hybrid yacht.


I wish you luck on your Houseboat Project. It seems with your experience working on boats and electrical experience, you are better positioned than most to give it a try and hopefully success.

One thing I wonder about….the safety or seaworthiness of a typical "lake designed" houseboat on the ICW. Would it survive 3 foot chop? Would it swamp if the water was not flat calm on the ICW due to weather or passing ship wake? Would it swamp if a squall struck while on a long stretch of a bay crossing? etc.
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Old 02-06-2016, 22:52   #11
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Re: Electric Houseboat concept

I suspect, your 7kt cruise with 20hp, is a little optimistic for an inefficient houseboat hull. Scale that back to 5-6kts and it's probably doable but 6kts would likely be running full throttle.

As others have said the solar/battery power is just not enough to do anything meaningful. Plan on being a diesel/electric boat. Particularly if you want to wander the Mississippi, you need decent power and the ability to supply it continuously. 7kts won't get you up the Mississippi.

You apparently have the technical knowhow, so start running the numbers for power generated and power consumed. I think you will find it works fine (all be it more expensive) on some of the slower waterways but when you get to the waterways with faster currents and longer distances between stopping points, it will become a problem.
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Old 03-06-2016, 02:47   #12
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Re: Electric Houseboat concept

I think you've gotten an excellent set of answers to your question! Running the numbers is the key.

If you're doing it for fun and for an engineering challenge, and have money to burn, go for it! I agree with Stu that this is the ideal application for such a system with large roof area and relatively small power requirement.

If cost is a factor, though -- run the numbers, do a budget, and you'll see that it will cost you probably 20x what a simple gasoline outboard would, and this will never ever pay for itself in fuel savings, not even in 100 years. And you will need the fossil fuel anyway because you won't get enough power from solar for all your propulsion.

You could go diesel-electric as someone suggested, but the big generator would be expensive and would be massive overkill for your other needs.

If you just wanted to play around with the technology, the most practical approach might be to have your gasoline outboard, but with a parallel electric drive with a more reasonable battery bank. You might cover a fair amount of your propulsion with the electric drive but need not design it to cover all of it, since you have the outboard. This will be much cheaper and more practical, and the economics would be better since you will probably save a fair amount of fuel, and get that with far smaller investment.

Also a large solar installation will definitely cover all your domestic power needs, and that is great and what existing solar technology already does well and economically.
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Old 03-06-2016, 11:03   #13
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Re: Electric Houseboat concept

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Originally Posted by Dockhead View Post
I think you've gotten an excellent set of answers to your question! Running the numbers is the key.

If you're doing it for fun and for an engineering challenge, and have money to burn, go for it! I agree with Stu that this is the ideal application for such a system with large roof area and relatively small power requirement.

If cost is a factor, though -- run the numbers, do a budget, and you'll see that it will cost you probably 20x what a simple gasoline outboard would, and this will never ever pay for itself in fuel savings, not even in 100 years. And you will need the fossil fuel anyway because you won't get enough power from solar for all your propulsion.

You could go diesel-electric as someone suggested, but the big generator would be expensive and would be massive overkill for your other needs.

If you just wanted to play around with the technology, the most practical approach might be to have your gasoline outboard, but with a parallel electric drive with a more reasonable battery bank. You might cover a fair amount of your propulsion with the electric drive but need not design it to cover all of it, since you have the outboard. This will be much cheaper and more practical, and the economics would be better since you will probably save a fair amount of fuel, and get that with far smaller investment.

Also a large solar installation will definitely cover all your domestic power needs, and that is great and what existing solar technology already does well and economically.
I agree with all of Dockhead's post above.
The large surface area of a typical houseboat roof would be a great "solar farm" for domestic needs, and a dependable and economical gas outboard would be good for those days when going is important.

I looked at the MOGU boat site, and while that boat looks appealing as a concept for a still water (no waves, few wakes) river (like some of the springs in Florida), I don't think the powering or range ability is appealing, as it seems more designed for short hops and on very mild waterways.
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Old 03-06-2016, 13:08   #14
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Re: Electric Houseboat concept

Thanks for all the replies, guys!

My intent is to live aboard and "gunkhole" various places until I find where I want to be. Permanently. My lupus doesn't allow for ocean going any more and all I'll get to do with the Morgan is help my best friend to realize and live his Dream. Unfortunately, with that, my Dream dies.

Now it's time for a new dream.

I need shady places and spaces with enough room for me, my 2 dogs, and 11 guitars. Saw some Erie Canal footage that REALLY tweaked my interests of American backwaters. That and the MOG canal boat set me off on this next fools errand.

For those of you who would "poo-poo" the idea, you're obviously behind the times and technology, because it HAS been done many times already as Steady Hand has shown. Maybe not with the common houseboat, but that seems to be what the MOG canal boat has become. Also, you may not have read the information on the MOG yet. I suggest you do so before saying it can't be done, because it can.

Catamarans are HEAVY and I would say heavier than a small aluminum hull houseboat. The canal boat weighs nearly as much as the Morgan 40 we have minus the ballast (13klbs). I've seen plenty of larger monos and cats with saildrives that are successfully cruising with weights exceeding the 21k of the Morgan.

As an example:
A 1968 33' Nautaline Houseboat V Hull Fiberglass weighs 11-12klbs. Near the same as the MOG at 12k.

I intend to go flat bottom on account of draft and drag. A "barge" style in my opinion would have less drag than a V-hull or do I have it ass backwards? And that's why I'm here. To consult with open-minded technically capable people who know way more than I do about the physics of boats in general.

Re: power
I would like to make this a 100% fuel-free system. A genset as backup is a moot point and one WILL be onboard as will a larger outboard for use in heavy current or for emergencies. As for the specifics on the electrical, I won't get into the minutia of the calculations until this weekend and later when I have time.

More later...
BACK TO WORK!

Yes I Can!! "Sherman Klump"
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Old 03-06-2016, 15:02   #15
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Re: Electric Houseboat concept

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Originally Posted by Fishman_Tx View Post
Re: power
I would like to make this a 100% fuel-free system. A genset as backup is a moot point and one WILL be onboard as will a larger outboard for use in heavy current or for emergencies. As for the specifics on the electrical, I won't get into the minutia of the calculations until this weekend and later when I have time.

I'd like to see you get there from here. Given your probable freedom to "stay put" until weather and/or available stored electrical power are acceptable, I'd think you might be able to... or at least come close enough for your own comfort level.

A backup genset for electricity seems appropriate. A backup propulsion motor for emergency movements or heavy weather seems appropriate.

OTOH, both of those come with a requirement to store fossil fuel, in some TBD quantity. Given that requirement exists too...

Just seems reasonable to suggest you spec out your best solar/wind system -- maybe include something underwater that uses river current to generate electricity too (sort of like automotive regeneration -- and then once you have those specs all costed out... including the cost of that backup genset, that backup propulsion, and whatever fossil fuel tankage...

Compare all that to the cost of a genset, two (probably) appropriately-sized outboards (or maybe a single, that's just bigger altogether than the idea of an emergency thing), and (maybe larger) fossil fuel storage.

If you're satisfied with the cost comparisons, E Voila!

Wouldn't surprise me if the genset/outboard(s)/decent tankage comes in less expensive, but that's just a WAG.

But it also wouldn't surprise me to learn that a genset, 2 outboards, tankage -- and a big, honkin' solar farm, too, with appropriately-sized battery storage -- could in the end be relatively inexpensive living.

In that approach, you could probably grow the system incrementally: add more solar when you can, add more battery when you can, add a wind generator when you feel like dealing with the noise, etc etc etc.


Eleven guitars should be easy. I'd have to deal with drum kits, a keyboard, a baby grand, PA, too...




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