Council on Energy, Environment and Water Integrated | International | Independent
How Solar-Assisted Electric Boats Can Empower Fishing Livelihoods
A Kerala Case Study
21 February, 2023 | Sustainable Mobility
Nilanshu Ghosh, Abhinav Soman, Harsimran Kaur, and Himani Jain

Suggested Citation: Ghosh, Nilanshu, Abhinav Soman, Harsimran Kaur, and Himani Jain. 2023. How Solar-Assisted Electric Boats can Empower Fishing Livelihoods: A Kerala Case Study. New Delhi: Council on Energy, Environment and Water.


In India, marine fishing is prevalent in all nine coastal states accounting for six per cent of the agricultural GDP and 16 million jobs in this sector. In this study, a sustainable livelihoods framework has been employed to critically assess the challenges faced by Kerala fisherfolk in terms of natural, physical, financial, human and social capital. Further, this study explores the implications on their livelihoods if their existing motorised boats are transitioned to solar-assisted e-boats.

Key Findings

  • Increasing access to more energy-efficient and cleaner solar-assisted e-boats will enhance the physical capital of fisherfolk, which comprises the tools and equipment they use to make a living. E-boats can also reduce the fisherfolks’ dependence on fossil fuels.
  • Despite the availability of formal loans, boats are not considered collateral by the banks which persuades small-scale fisherfolk to rely on tenuous informal sources for loans. Hence, the existing policies can be leveraged to streamline formal financing options for solar-assisted e-boats.
  • The total cost of ownership (TCO) for solar-assisted electric boats is about 60 per cent lower than that of petrol-operated boats.  
  • Poor engine, low fuel efficiencies, and the related noise pollution of the boats result in water pollution and lower fish productivity. A solar-assisted e-boat transition can help mitigate challenges owing to their silent operations and zero exhaust emissions.


“Fisherfolk in India currently face multifaceted threats of climate change, water pollution, volatile markets and lack of formal financing. A transition to solar-assisted e-boats can enhance their livelihoods while making the fisheries sector more sustainable.”

Motorised fishing craft create an opportunity for clean technology adoption

Source: Authors’ adaptation from Department of Fisheries 2019

Executive Summary

Marine fishing is prevalent in all nine coastal states in India and has an annual harvestable potential of 53.1 lakh tonnes (Department of Fisheries 2019; National Fisheries Development Board 2020). In the financial year 2018 (FY18), India exported INR 45,100 crore (USD 7.08 billion) worth of marine products, registering a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19 per cent over the previous five years (The Marine Products Exports Development Authority, n.d.). The maritime fishing sector is a significant economic contributor in India, with a share of about 6.8 per cent in the agricultural GDP and 1.07 per cent of the total GDP (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 2018). It is also a critical livelihood generator, supporting close to 16 million jobs in fisheries (Shyam S. Salim and Anuja A. R. 2022).

Despite the development of the marine fishing sector, the livelihoods of fisherfolk around India continue to suffer from challenges related to climate change, lack of formal financing, strenuous working conditions, and limited access to high-quality fishing craft and gear. Clean technology solutions – for example, solarassisted electric boats (e-boat) – can assist in addressing many of these problems. A solar-assisted e-boat is a type of e-boat in which the electric motor that powers propulsion derives a part or all of the energy required from solar photovoltaic panels.

We conducted focus group discussions (FGDs) in 2021 in the fishing villages of Chellanam and Puthuvypin, Kochi, to understand the various challenges impacting the livelihoods of fisherfolk. Using the results of the FGDs and secondary literature, we classify the challenges as natural, financial, social, physical, and human capital, according to the sustainable livelihoods framework (SLF). Furthermore, we explore the potential of solar-assisted e-boats as a solution to the many problems affecting their livelihoods (Table ES 1).

Given that the idea of solar e-boats for the fishing sector is still in the nascent stages, we estimate the total cost of ownership (TCO) and analyse its impact on the finances of the fisherfolk. However, there is a need to back these estimates with on-ground trials of the technology to establish functional equivalence to conventional fuel– operated boats and validate real-world performance on energy costs.

Our analysis indicates that the adoption of clean technologies for the fishing sector will lead to several gains, with positive impacts on the identified challenges:

  • Natural capital: As solar-assisted e-boats do not produce exhaust emissions, there is significantly lesser environmental pollution when compared to conventional fuel counterparts. Additionally, e-boats produce 25 per cent lower vibration and sound pollution than conventional vessels, with noise levels between 80 and 90 dB.
  • Physical capital: Our study highlights that increasing access to the more energy-efficient and cleaner solar-assisted e-boats will enhance physical capital while reducing fisherfolk’s dependence on fossil fuels, which are associated with high emissions and are expensive. There is also potential for further optimising the size and design of the ferry, new fuel and power technology integrated with sails, and add other modern safety and convenience features.
  • Financial capital: We estimate that the TCO for solar e-boats is about 60 per cent lower than that for petrol boats. This would have a profound impact on improving fisherfolk’s incomes and reducing their vulnerability to rising fuel prices. Providing low-interest loans to individuals and easy finance to co-operatives are necessary for quick penetration of clean technology.
  • Human capital: A switch to solar-assisted e-boats will help reduce financial burden and aid in the improvement of human capital.
  • Social capital: There is a need for regional-level interventions targeting each of the above capital assets to improve their livelihood. 

Table ES1 Challenges identified under the SLF in Kerala’s fishing villages of Chellanam and Puthuvypin

Source: Authors’ compilation

Recommendations and the way forward

Marine fishing is a pivotal contributor to the country’s economic growth, accounting for 7 per cent of the total agricultural GDP (1.07 per cent of the total GDP). Whereas on the one hand the marine fishing sector has evolved into a multi-billion-dollar industry, on the other, the fisherfolk face several challenges related to natural, financial, social, physical, and human capital. Technological advances, such as the introduction of motorised boats, have been instrumental in addressing these constraints. The mechanisation of the marine fishing sector has improved annual fish production by almost 117 per cent from 1986–1987 to 2016–2017.

However, this mechanisation poses several threats to the environment. Poor engine and fuel efficiencies of the boats contribute to water pollution, and the related noise pollution has significant adverse effects on aquatic life. A technology shift to greener alternatives would reduce various forms of pollution and make the fisheries sector more sustainable. We explored the possibility of using solar-operated boats in the fisheries sector in this study. Our analysis indicates that the TCO of an e-boat is around 60 per cent lower than that of a petrol-operated boat, with the possibility of a reduction of 560,000 tonnes in CO2 emissions.

Despite an attractive TCO, fisherfolk have been hesitant to explore solar-assisted e-boats as a potential substitute, for various reasons. Based on our FGDs, we put forward the following recommendations to increase the uptake of solar-assisted e-boats:

  • Awareness gaps and addressal: Currently, fisherfolk are sceptical about solar-assisted e-boats. Their main concern is regarding the design of the boats – they feel that e-boats are not as sturdy as existing traditional vessels. A majority of their operations are in turbulent water, and their apprehension is that the material used to construct these boats is too fragile to withstand such conditions. Beach landings tend to damage fibreglass or wooden boats, and hence they would prefer that more robust materials are used for the construction of e-boats. Therefore, manufacturers could explore other, more sturdy materials for the construction of e–boats. Alternatively, there is a need for awareness campaigns to help disseminate the fears regarding the materials used. This will also help the fisherfolk adapt better to the technology of e-boats and start using them for their fishing activities.

  • Suitable financing options: A majority of fisherfolk are concerned about the high upfront costs of e-boats. Currently, even the price of traditional vessels is considered rather steep, which means that e-boats, which cost almost twice as much, are seen as prohibitively expensive. Hesitancy towards providing collateral prevents them from availing of formal loans and makes them rely on informal sources. The government can introduce schemes for the uptake of cleaner technologies, similar to the FAME scheme for electric vehicles. Additionally, banks can consider providing green loans at cheaper interest rates for e-boats.

  • Renewable energy integration: Integration of RE with e-boats provides an opportunity for the manufacturers to effectively design their vessels to reduce dependence on grid electricity. Given the intermittency of RE sources, it is imperative for manufacturers to design robust auxiliary systems that can power the e-boats in the absence of RE power. Fisherfolk tend to spend around eight hours sometimes at sea to get a decent catch. Hence, the manufacturers need to design the energy storage and power systems of the e-boats keeping this operational pattern in mind. This will further encourage a oneto-one replacement of conventional vessels with e-boats.

  • Leveraging data for safety and resource efficiency:Most of the vessels used for marine fishing purposes are informal. Given the use of materials such as fibreglass, it becomes imperative to ensure that the boats are properly disposed of when they are scrapped. The Information Technology and Management Services (ITMS) system present in the solar-assisted e-boats can help the government track the location of the e-boats and ensure that they are adequately disposed of and that the critical materials used in the e-boats are properly recycled at the end of their lifespan.

The ITMS system can also assist fisherfolk in keeping track of the vessels as well as ensuring their safety in case of emergencies. Currently, contacting the shore or the coast guard is a major concern for the fisherfolk during emergencies, but with the ITMS, this challenge can be overcome.

The existing policies, programmes, and schemes focus on various aspects to improve the livelihoods of fisherfolk, but the use of clean technologies is still missing from the discussion. The current policies and schemes can, however, be revamped to enable the adoption of clean technologies. Some of these policies and schemes are discussed below.    

National Policies 

National Fisheries Policy(FY21–FY26)

Livelihood areas covered: productivity, diversification of income, marketing of catch, safety, and health

Integrating the National Policy on Marine Fisheries, 2017 (NPMF), the draft National Inland Fisheries and Aquaculture Policy (NIFAP), and the draft National Mariculture Policy (NMP), the Government of India introduced a comprehensive National Fisheries Policy (draft NFP) in February 2020 (PIB 2020b). The policy objectives include making fish products globally competitive while ensuring sound management of resources, meeting food and nutritional security of the fishing communities, and building resilience. The NFP focuses on regulatory and institutional reforms to promote various fisheries-related activities.

Currently, because fuel remains a major expense for the fisherfolk, a transition to cleaner technologies will help them increase their daily savings. These savings can then be used to purchase better fishing gear to increase their catch. Hence, the NFP policy can be amended to include the adoption of cleaner technologies to enhance the economic benefits for the fisherfolk.

Programmes and schemes 

Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY; FY21–FY25)

Livelihood areas covered: Fish productivity, welfare, access to technology, post-harvest infrastructure 

The PMMSY aims to address gaps in fish productivity, quality, technology post-harvest infrastructure and management, modernisation and strengthening of vessels and other assets, traceability and safety through better telematics, establishing a robust fisheries management framework, and fisherfolk welfare.

The scheme has an estimated investment of INR 20,050 crore under the Atmanirbhar Bharat package (PIB 2020a). Although the PMMSY adequately addresses the need for modernising the craft, promoting the adoption of clean technologies could further help in reducing emissions and increasing savings for fisherfolk.  

Fisheries and Aquaculture Infrastructure Development Fund  (FY19–FY23)

Livelihood areas covered: Infrastructure

The government of India encourages private entrepreneurs and fish farmers to build fisheries infrastructure facilities. The Fisheries and Aquaculture Infrastructure Development Fund was created with an estimated fund outlay of INR 7522.48 crore to achieve 20 million tonnes of fish production by 2022–2023. Solarassisted e-boats can play a critical role in achieving this target (Department of Fisheries 2015).  

Kisan Credit Card Scheme  (ongoing from FY20)

Livelihood areas covered: Access to credit

In 2019, the government extended the Kisan Credit Card scheme to fisherfolk. Under this scheme, fisherfolk can avail support for their short-term working capital needs.

The credit limit is INR 2 lakh, and interest subvention is available at 2 per cent per annum, with an additional subvention of 3 per cent per annum in the form of a prompt repayment incentive (PIB 2019). The credit scheme can be extended by the government to promote cleaner technologies by increasing the credit limit for the purchase of e-boats.

Although there are clear economic and environmental benefits associated with the transition to cleaner technologies, support in terms of schemes and policies will further fast-track the transition. Going forward, the impact of solar-assisted e-boats can be further explored by conducting pilots to identify any key barriers that may arise in their operations. Furthermore, an impact study can be conducted to analyse the impact on the livelihood of fisherfolk when they adopt cleaner technologies. With proper support from the government and regional fishing co-operatives, the technology transition to greener alternatives will improve fisherfolk’s livelihoods and help reduce emissions from the marine fishing sector.


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