Ship sailing with mountains in the background

Meet Ópal – the world’s first retrofitted plugin hybrid sail boat

About two dozen excited tourists are readying their cameras – waiting for the moment when the great creatures of the sea break the sea surface for air in the bay outside the coastal town of Húsavík in Iceland. The excitement aboard the schooner Ópal is electric when a humpback whale suddenly emerges. 

Although there is no wind this day, the whales never hear the boat full of tourists approaching. That is because Ópal is not like other sail boats, which usually sports loud and polluting diesel engines. As the first sail boat in the world, the schooner has been retrofitted with a so-called Regenerative Plug-In Hybrid Propulsion (RPHP) system. 

Saving nature and money 

This means she is equipped with an electric engine that is able to regenerate its batteries while sailing – making her operation totally carbon neutral and completely silent. When in harbor, the batteries are charged by using green renewable energy from the grid. Good for nature and good for the whales. The tourists aboard Ópal this day get an experience they will never forget, and the whales were not disturbed.  

The innovative RPHP system was developed and implemented in Ópal by a Nordic consortium (see fact box) through the Rensea II project, which was financed by Nordic Innovation through our previous Nordic Solved program in cooperation with NORA.  

The results of the project were promising with projections showing that the RPHP system can save tour operators about 250 MWh of energy equaling 21.300 Euros every year1. The learnings from the project also makes the process of installing the RPHP system in other boat in the future much easier. 

Global recognition  

Since the project ended in 2015, Ópal has garnered much attention both in the Nordics and globally. The launch received widespread media coverage especially in Iceland and in Norway, and project partners North Sailing has won several prizes for their carbon-free whale watching tours, including  joint-Silver winner of the Best Innovation for Carbon Reduction category at the World Responsible Tourism Awards 2015 at World Travel Market in London and finalist for the Innovation Award in the WTTC Tourism for Tomorrow Awards. 

Ópal is still in service today having been operated in Húsavík, Reykjavík and Tromsø. North Sailing has since retrofitted another one of their vessels with the RPHP system and is aiming to convert all their whale watching ships to carbon neutral vessels. 

Download project report

Ópal getting close to a whale. Photo: North Sailing

The project is funded through the now defunct Nordic Solved program. The Nordic consortium consisted of the following project partners: 

  • North Sailing (Ópal operators) 
  • Bellona 
  • Innovation Center Iceland 
  • Icelandic New Energy 
  • Naust Marine 
  • Lakeside Excursions 
  • Wave Propulsion 
  • Caterpillar 
  • Clean eMarine