Skysail – a retrospective

MS_Beluga_SkySails_gesetzter_Kite Sails on boats?  Using wind to move ships?  My God, what will they think of next!?

Our own Tomas Martin brought up this novel concept back in January.  Now that the Beluga has completed the first leg of its voyage and the costs have been calculated, it turns out that the savings estimates of 20%/day (roughly $1500, or 3 euros and a handful of beans on the exchange market) were spot on.  To put it in perspective, the normal fuel budget is around $7500/day.  That’s a big chunk of change, and a boon to an industry that has been found to be even more damaging in terms of carbon emissions.

(via Dailytech, image from Skysails website)

19 thoughts on “Skysail – a retrospective”

  1. Can we please do away with the now obligatory “carbon footprint” angle? It’s preachy and no one cares anymore.

  2. It’s economics mostly. Any company executive would sell their children for a 20% reduction in a volatile aspect of their operating budget.

    It’s not just the “carbon footprint,” as shipping is often blamed for invasive species like zebra mussels and localized pollution in waterways and bays. Environmentally friendly shipping is not.

    Skysails could do the same for ships as generative braking has done for hybrid cars – allow us to exploit an essentially free resource to do the bulk of the transportation, with a smaller petroleum-powered engine for acceleration purposes.

  3. Thanks for following up on this story, Jeremy. I’m excited by the potential of Skysails to make shipping more efficient – why use the amount of fossil fuels they use currently when they can use less pretty much for free. It works on so many levels.

    JasperPants, you may not care anymore but based on the huge numbers of businesses changing their practices to reduce their carbon footprint, it seems to be ‘no one’ is a stretch. I think Jeremy has it right – many of these cuts in energy use are good for economic reasons too. Companies are cutting energy use and finding they are saving money and using their resources more efficiently. This can only be a good thing. If it turns out (which looks unlikely) that we don’t need to worry about carbon emissions, these companies will have improved their profits with these measures, so it’s a win-win situation. Just because there are environmental reasons for doing something, doesn’t mean it always is attacking business. The two can coexist.

  4. Tomas,

    I agree with everything you mention in your post above. Snark aside, have you talked to a group of young people (ages 10 – 18) lately?

    Earth Hour? Please. Its more moralizing and preaching. Weather its Big Oil or Big Environment, its all the same to the next generation.

    The AGW scare has jumped the shark.

  5. If by “jumped the shark” you mean “been accepted as a de facto reality rather than a possibility”, then you’re right in line with what I hear from teenagers at the moment. Granted, most of them have no idea what they should do about it, but they seem to accept there’s an issue. But then, all teenagers are not created equal, and of course YMMV.

  6. ‘Earth Hour’? I don’t believe I mentioned anything about that. As I’ve said before, I’m a scientist. Discounting researchers who have ties to oil companies for bias, the majority of studies find that greenhouses gases have an effect on global temperatures. (Lately I’ve noted people using the strawman argument of the warm year in 1997 being hotter than today’s – that doesn’t count, because that was an El Nino year which amplifies temperature, whereas currently we’re in a La Nina cycle, which dampens temperatures. Smoothed for this, temperatures are rising)

    Until someone gives me good scientific evidence to the contrary, I will assume that those who have trained and studied in the fields related to climate know more than I do. I wouldn’t presume to know more about my body than a doctor with an x-ray in his hand.

    This for me isn’t a moral issue but a practical one. Science is telling us this is probably going to be a problem so action to improve efficiency is needed. But I’m a big proponent of efficiency in all walks of life because it’s silly to throw away money, so I’d be advocating skysails to cut shipping fuel use even if AGW didn’t exist.

    Why do you think teenagers are so worried about it? I’d say that it’s because they’re young and know that if global warming is happening, they are the ones who will have to live through it. Youngsters being motivated to do something about it has got to be a good thing.

  7. Please, Paul. “Jumping the shark” means that the AGW dog has had its day. It’s a fad and the younger generation is moving on.

    Tomas, why are you so quick to discount the inherent bias of scientists that work for oil companies, but you do not discount the bias of scientists benefiting directly from the AGW grant gravy train. Everyone has a bias, you are niave if you believe otherwise.

    Look, climate science is a new field of study. Billions is spent on research and new information is uncovered every week. Some of the research supports AGW and some of it questions it. This is how science is supposed to work, no?

    But the message is that the “science is settled”, which is of course a euphanism for “stop questioning us and get on with it”. Belief or disbeief in AGW is no longer a scientific issue, but a political and religious one. This should trouble you as a scientist because the outcome of agenda driven science and research will be a genie you cannot easily put back in the bottle.

    As you said, you are a scientist. Well, so was Einstien, and his grasp of economics was tainted with Socialism, which is the economic doctrine favoured by many academics, even today.

    It is no coincidence that your fellow travellers on the AGW journey are also a rag-tag bunch of zero-growth, anti-technology, anti-human, big government misanthropes.

  8. I understand the meaning of “jumping the shark”, Jasper, I simply disagree that AGW has experienced it. And as I said before, my experience of the younger generation seems to vigorously contradict your own; this may, of course, due to Caeser hearing what is pleasing to Caeser.

    And at the risk of jumping in on your comments to Tomas, yes, it is unsettling that climate change issues have become politicised; I’d be interested to see you demonstrate how that isn’t the result of careful and expensive obfuscation by political entities who are very much in the pocket of vested interests. A lot of money goes on scientific research, very true – but I can’t remember seeing many scientists parking their second Bentley outside their penthouse apartments. That money goes on the research itself, not on the scientists; if it were otherwise, it might actually be possible to get more kids interested in a science career. And also, I don’t see Tomas or anyone else saying the science is “settled” – I do, however, see plenty of evidence that climate change is a genuine issue that needs addressing, and little on the other side except shrill denial and obfuscation. Please, prove us wrong. If you can.

    And finally, I’ve always found your debating style here to be firm but reasonable, but those last two paragraphs are very feeble ad hominems that, truthfully or not, make you look as if you’re not feeling as secure on your ideological platform as you might like to make out. The socialist bogeyman, O NOES – complete with a sinister capital S! “Many” academics – quantify, please. What percentage, from which disciplines? “Fellow travellers”? OMG – paging Mr McCarthy!

    And bearing in mind how long you’ve been reading Futurismic you should be well aware that almost everyone here is far from being “zero-growth, anti-technology, anti-human, big government misanthropes”, as you so eloquently put it. Put your toys back in the playpen and try again, please. In the name of the open and transparent debate you are so keen to encourage, I’d be interested to know what line of business you work in yourself.

  9. The problem I have with your position Jasper is the ‘AGW grant gravy train’ idea. Who do you think really benefits from global warming existing? A few carbon credit firms are making profit and the nuclear energy companies are enjoying it but apart from that, I really can’t see where your AGW-supporting scientists are receiving all of this bribe money to change their results, as you seem to be suggesting.

    There’s a reason oil company sponsored research is biased – the oil companies have a lot of money they stand to lose if AGW exists. It’s a very similar case to the cigarette companies, for years paying scientists to say smoking wasn’t bad for health when it was painfully obvious it was untrue. That’s not to say that climate change is as surely true as smoking, but the bias is similar.

    Like then, there’s very little money to be gained by saying ‘smoking is bad’ or ‘climate change is happening’ – your argument is flawed because the people funding climate studies are generally governments, research councils and bodies of science, who are in the business of science, not in the business of proving global warming is true so they can profit from it.

    I never said the science was settled but on the whole the studies i’ve seen by legitimate sources are saying it’s likely we will have some climate change and mitigating it is a good idea. So far I’ve seen very little good evidence that it’s not happening, so I’m leaning towards it happening.

    I have just as much to lose from AGW as everyone else – there’s no denying it’ll be an expensive pain if it exists, for scientists just as much as for big business. So this weird argument that somehow we’re anti-technology because global warming exists is mad. I love technology – I write for a futurist blog!

    If anything, I think scientists interested in AGW are very pro-technology, because we’ll need to use every ounce of alternative energies, more efficient appliances, computers and vehicles, as well as bringing infrastructure and society into a more streamlined 21st Century.

    I’m not anti-technology, anti-human and I don’t think the majority of people are either. I think the climate change skeptics ARE anti-change though. You seem to be scared of any increase in government regulation from the laissez faire disaster it is now, and of any change from the status quo.

    Healthy debate is good. I’m more than prepared to accept scientific evidence from both sides of the debate and believe me, I’d love to see evidence it doesn’t exist, it would make our lives a whole lot easier. And if some scientist or study turns out to be paid off by some ‘AGW gravy train’ I’m more than prepared to ignore their findings too. But I’m also prepared to make changes if the majority of reputable studies tell me there is a problem, which is something you seem unable to do.

    Being a scientist means not being emotionally attached to an outcome. Politicising science is a bad thing but that’s what’s been happening for the last 8 years. I’d argue that the recent support for climate change is not science being politicised but in fact politics being ‘sciencefied’ – governments are starting to listen to what scientists on the whole are saying is a problem.

    I’m more than happy to be proven wrong but I’m not entirely sure you have the same openness to debate. The science isn’t proven it exists, true enough. But it’s also not proven it doesn’t, which is what you seem to be implying.

  10. First up, I am happy that Paul pointed out that I try to be reasonable in my arguments. I am looking for deeper understanding through discussion. And, I might just learn a thing or two!

    As you both are aware, I have a strong distrust of the motivations of what I refer to as the “AGW crowd”. I am drawn to this site because I have am interested in technology and science fiction writing. I think it’s fair to say that you both represent what I would call the positive side of the AGW crowd. I think you have a strong belief, given the right government incentives, that technology, research and engineering can help save us from a bleak future.

    Based on my observations of the behaviours of the players in this game, your positive view is held in the minority. The real players in this game are represented by often radical environmental groups (Sierra Club, WWF, Greenpeace), the UN and individuals like David Suzuki and Maurice Strong ( I AM Canadian, eh?). They represent what I call “hair-shirt” environmentalism. This side believes that our consumer based lifestyle is “unsustainable” and that we must curb our energy use to avoid an apocalyptic future. If we don’t, Mother Nature will smite us. Of course, more government control is the answer.

    Paul didn’t like my reference to “fellow travelers”. Read this and tell me again why I am being paranoid.

    And note the 5th paragraph in this editorial in the Boston Globe:

    History has effectively demonstrated that totalitarian tendencies are almost exclusively the domain of the Left: Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot. The refusal to accept alternative points of view is a common trait, and right now the AGW crowd is demonstrating an inability to assimilate new information that questions their position:,25197,23411799-7583,00.html

    And lastly, we have the infamous “Hockey Stick”, which was heralded by the IPCC as proof to the masses that AGW was real:

    Sorry for the length of the post, I should comment on Tomas’ last paragraph above. I agree with your point (well the last two sentences). But I know it would be an economic, social and humanitarian disaster if we cut CO2 emissions as envisaged by the (thanksfully, now dead) Kyoto Protocol. Under the Protocol, goverment meddling in our freedoms would be endless, and the law of unintended conequences would kick in and unleash untold horrors on us.

    P.S. I am a father, own a business that employs 50+ people, and have an economics degree from many years ago.

  11. Thank you for that reply Jasper. We appreciate your input and willingness to debate.

    Hitler, fascism and the Nazis were in fact right-wing:

    Whilst the other three were communists, which when it becomes a dictatorship is little different. I wouldn’t disagree that extreme beliefs on either side of the aisle are damaging, left or right – just look at what the current US administration has done to the economy by dismantling government restrictions on lending practices.

    I agree with you on ‘hairshirt’ environmentalism. Noone is helped by a complete return to preindustrial life. However, that’s not the same as saying we should cut any of our energy use. By making all appliances, cars and houses more efficient we can cut energy use without harming the economy (in fact it should stimulate new jobs producing these products)

    The ‘new information’ you reference that 1998 was the hottest year I talked about in one of my previous comments. Because 1998 was an El Nino peak year (hotter global temperature) and we are now in a La Nina weather pattern that dampens temperature, we can’t use that comparison without first smoothing out this background, as done below:

    in fact 2007 was the second hottest year on record in the GISS study, which includes polar regions (other studies do not despite the fact that polar surfaces naturally warm quicker as reflective ice melts to become heat-absorbing water) This is remarkable because 2007 is in a period of low solar activity and at the coolest part of the La Nina cycle, thus potentially striking down two key criticisms of the GW theory.

    The US is in a recession anyway and the world is expected to follow into at least a downturn. Why not stimulate new jobs and new growth by renovating homes, energy and fuel use to be more efficient? It’s not like using less oil is a bad thing. It would certainly require less invasions of oil-producing countries to help bankrupt us!

  12. Tomas, the Nazi’s were left wing:

    Note the translation of the term “Nazi”. Workers Party, collectivism, anti-capitalist were their central principles. Where I come from, these are characteristics of left wing politics.

    A couple of quick hits:

    The current US government has had a mixed record of “dismantling government restrictions”, as you put it. For example, passage of Sarbanes-Oxley has dramatically increased financial compliance costs for US firms. Britain’s financial sector has benefitted greatly from this law, as firms reduce their financial activity in the US and increase it in the UK.

    By the way, the campaign to see home ownership rise in the US started well before GWB was elected. A strong argument can be made that it was government policy started by Clinton that resulted in people with no business owning a home (called NINJAS – no income, no jobs) getting loans they are now defaulting on.

    The US is not officially in a recession yet. You must wait for 2 quarters of negative growth before declaring one. Forget the experts…wait until you see it actually happen.

    Here’s a thought. Do you think the average Jane/Joe care about environmental issues more, less or the same during an economic downturn? My guess is that when jobs are plentiful and income is growing, people care a whole lot more about the environment. Much of the reporting on the demise of the US economy appears to be wishing it actually happens. Which is odd, seeing as it will be newspaperman that will lose their jobs, should the downturn be severe. I would bet that environmental issues fall to the bottom of the average citizen’s concerns when they are worried about their economic security.

    Now I am in a Wikipedia kind of mood, you could read this:

    One of the problems with the utopian view of switching from a hydrocarbon based energy system to alternatives is demonstrated by this parable.

    We could trade interesting links all day about global warming that support or refute our respective positions. I remain unconvinced that we must make the sacrifices we are being told are necessary based on the evidence presented so far. To even begin to change my mind on this, it would take a far higher level of consensus on behalf of climate scientists than their currently is today and more accurate “models” that could at the very least model climate from the last 50 or 100 years accurately, which they can’t do.

  13. However fascists, of which the Nazi’s were undoubtedly part of, are widely regarded to be right wing. Neo-Nazis are regarded to be right wing. There are some elements of socialism in there, to be sure, and the Italians under Mussolini’s Military-Industrial complex were more conservative, but in all the history books I’ve ever read the Nazis are regarded to be right wing. I’ve found a lot of links on the internet regarding current right wing groups attempting to label them as left wing, however…

    The broken window parable is interesting, although it’s main analogy seems to be war – if the current right wing administration hadn’t gone to war, they would have had the resources thirty times over to deal with the financial problems, environmental problems and infrastructural problems such as bridge repair that are needed in the US in particular today.

    I think much of the reporting on the eceonomy thinks it will happen but this isn’t the same as them wanting it to happen. Same with climate change. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen and either we change to meet it or we don’t. The problem with your parable is that it assumes we have the choice to break the window or not. Now there’s a chance AGW doesn’t exist but we have no power over that chance.

    At this point the hairshirt approach is nonsensical, i agree on that point. However, alternative energies, fuels and more efficient products have far more value than as AGW solvers alone. Even if I’d never heard of climate change, I’d still say changing to fuels that aren’t imported from across the globe, using less energy and resources on any particular item and in general producing less waste are inherently good things no matter how left or right you go on the political axis.

    That’s what I don’t get about this kind of argument. The current capitalist state of thinking says that more profit=good. Most of these efficiencies and alternative energies have the potential to reduce costs of energy and resources for any particular product, which will increase profits. There will of course be a period of transition but it seems completely nonsensical to me that whilst efficiency in jobs, trade and government is seen as a good thing, this kind of efficiency is greenwashing and somehow going to doom us all? As far as I can tell it’s just good business sense, AGW or no.

  14. You are 100% correct – for profit business is the best economic model we have to drive out costs from operations.

    Reducing energy costs will happen with or without the AWG scare, especially with oil at $100 per barrel. The biggest enemy to an environmentalist is cheap energy.

    Okay, so we agree the hairshirt approach is nonsensical. However this approach is at the forefront of the AGW movement.

    Also, regarding the Nazi = Socialism analogy, here is a recent book that reached #1 on the NY Times bestseller list that links the two:

  15. At least we have the hairshirt thing settled. I’ll even accept that “The biggest enemy to an *hairshirt* environmentalist is cheap energy”. But by assuming that we’re all hairshirters, you’re weakening the appeal of your argument to us – I count myself as a type of environmenatalist, but cheap energy doesn’t hamper my future visions whatsoever – I’m a science fiction fan, for goodness’ sake!

    So, let’s assume that we’re all interested in maintaining the best state of play for the most people over the longest period of time – would it be fair to say we have that ground in common, at least?

    I’m afraid I’m not buying an appeal-to-popularity fallacy, though, especially not with a book by Goldberg, who has (amongst other things) defended colonialism in Africa and opined that best thing for us stroppy Euros would be being controlled by Uncle Sam (a suggestion that, if it were reversed, would cause outright fury in the US, and rightly so).

    Goldberg’s axe to grind against liberals may go back further than his mother’s involvement in the Clinton/Lewinsky affair, but I’m willing to assume that was a considerable influence in him deciding to tar approximately half the population of the nation he holds so dear with the label “fascist”. I’ll accept “hegemonising”, “centralist” and “big government” as labels for leftist politics (as they are the parts of leftist politics that make me shy away from the left), but this fascism thing is a cheap straw man that makes you look as if you have as big an axe to grind as Goldberg.

    Climate change is not a political issue at core, though I concede it has been surrounded and co-opted by the machinery of politics – on *all* sides. Let’s address the science and the potential responses to that, having established our political views differ wildly. Otherwise we’re walking in circles to no purpose, no?

  16. Paul, although you may wish everyone involved stick to the science of AGW, once one side insists on using government regulation to re-order, well, everything, it turns instantly political.

    Its obvious you guys are not hairshirters. I don’t think it possible a Sci-Fi blog would be run by Luddites.

    Sticking to the science of AGW, earlier, I let the comment pass about cooling since 1998 as being explained by an El Nino year, which is fair enough. However, that interview in the Australian mentioned that since 2002, temps have been flat, which contradicts what the so called models predict in an environment of rising CO2.

    After reading Taken By Storm

    it seems clear to me that climate models have been oversold as the arbiter of AGW theory.

    I will come back to my central point again: the science is not settled on AGW (contrary to what is often repeated in the media), and even what we do know is not enough to implement a “son of Kyoto” pogram which will cost huge dollars, reduce freedom and likely cause more damage to our ideal of “playing longer and better” than if we do nothing at all (or simply adapt).

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