Best Renewable Energy Options for Cruise Ships

Renewable Energy: The cruise industry has an opportunity to transition toward cleaner energy sources like solar, wind, and biofuels to power their massive ships instead of relying heavily on fossil fuels that result in substantial greenhouse gas emissions. Installing renewables on ships can generate emissions-free electricity while using biofuels, hydrogen fuel cells and batteries for propulsion systems can also dramatically reduce emissions.

Furthermore, investing in energy efficiency measures like heat recovery, LED lighting and smart HVAC controls can optimize energy use on board. The technology exists to power cruise ships sustainably with renewables and efficiency upgrades. What’s needed now is the will and initiative from cruise lines to bring about this vital transition. Embracing renewable energy would allow the cruise industry to reduce its environmental impact and become a model of sustainability.

Traditional Energy Sources for Cruise Ships

Heavy Fuel Oil

Most cruise ships have historically relied on heavy fuel oil to power their engines. This thick, viscous oil is essentially the leftover residue after gasoline, diesel, and other light hydrocarbons are removed from crude oil during the refining process. While relatively inexpensive, heavy fuel oil is also high in pollutants like sulfur and soot.

Diesel Fuel

Diesel engines provide propulsion for cruise ships and generate electricity for onboard facilities. Diesel fuel is cleaner than heavy fuel oil but still emits harmful air pollutants like particulate matter and nitrogen oxides. Some ships use a dual-fuel system, operating on diesel within emission control areas and switching to heavy fuel oil in open waters.

Nuclear Power

A few passenger ships have experimented with nuclear power, taking advantage of its high energy density. However, high costs, safety concerns, and radioactive waste have limited adoption. Nuclear-powered cruise ships remain controversial and uncommon.

The Environmental Impact of Cruise Ships

The World Shipping Council estimates that cruise ships account for only 2-3% of global carbon emissions from shipping. However, a single large cruise ship can emit as much pollution as millions of cars.

Specifically, cruise ships generate major emissions including:

  • Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, contributing to climate change and ocean acidification.
  • Sulfur oxides, causing respiratory illnesses and acid rain.
  • Nitrogen oxides, forming ground-level ozone and smog.
  • Particulate matter, triggering heart and lung disease.
  • Wastewater, often treated with chemicals before dumping into the sea.

Renewable Energy Solutions for Cruise Ships

The cruise industry is responding to growing environmental concerns by investing in cleaner energy sources. Here are some of the promising renewable energy technologies being deployed:

Solar panels and wind turbines provide propulsion for cruise ships and generate electricity for onboard facilities. Renewable energy sources like solar and wind are much cleaner than fossil fuels, emitting no air pollutants. Some ships use a hybrid system, operating on solar and wind power within emission control areas and switching to batteries charged by renewable sources in open waters.

Many new ships feature solar panels to generate electricity and heat water. For instance, the Celebrity Edge has 7,000 square feet of solar panels. While solar cannot meet all energy needs, it reduces fossil fuel dependence.

Concepts for wind power include vertical axis wind turbines, Flettner rotors that capture wind power to propel ships, and kite sails that pull vessels. These emerging technologies can supplement main engines.


Waste heat recovery systems capture heat from engine exhaust to generate steam for power. Incinerators can also convert waste into electricity. These solutions reduce emissions by utilizing waste streams.


Advanced biofuels like biodiesel and bio-LNG emit less pollution than conventional fuels. Cruise lines are starting to experiment with biofuel blends to lower their carbon footprints.

Fuel Cells

Hydrogen fuel cells generate electricity through a clean electrochemical reaction, with only water as the byproduct. Installing fuel cell systems onboard can power lighting and appliances without fossil fuel combustion.


Lithium-ion batteries, similar to those in electric vehicles, can store renewable energy for use when needed. Battery banks can provide supplemental power and frequency regulation for shipboard electrical grids.

Shore Power

Shore power, also known as cold ironing, allows ships to plug into onshore electrical grids while docked. This avoids running dirty auxiliary engines in port. Ports worldwide are adding shore power capabilities.

Cruise Lines Implementing Renewable Energy

Here are some of the cruise companies taking meaningful steps toward sustainability:

  • Royal Caribbean has installed solar panels, waste heat recovery systems, and shore power connections across its fleet while pledging to cut emissions by 35% by 2025.
  • Norwegian Cruise Line incorporated rotor sails on the Norwegian Prima to harness wind power and has committed to net carbon neutral cruising by 2050.
  • MSC Cruises is deploying waste-to-energy plants, biofuel capabilities, and shore power on new ships as part of its journey to net zero emissions.
  • Silversea Cruises is incorporating fuel cells and batteries into hybrid power systems on its new Nova class ships, expected to reduce fuel consumption by 30%.
  • Hurtigruten aims to operate fully electric and hybrid ships running on batteries recharged with green shore power by 2030.

The Future of Sustainable Cruising

While fossil fuels still dominate the maritime industry, cruise lines are making significant investments to incorporate renewable energy, driven by regulation, consumer demand, and climate action.

Transitioning to low or zero-emission ships will be a complex, long-term process requiring new designs, infrastructure, and supply chains. However, the growth of hybrid power systems, alternative fuels, and energy efficiency measures indicates a cleaner future for cruising our blue planet.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What energy do cruise ships use?

Cruise ships mainly use heavy fuel oil and diesel fuel to power engines and generate electricity. Some have started using small amounts of nuclear, solar, wind, biofuels or batteries.

How do cruise ships generate energy?

The main ways cruise ships generate energy are through internal combustion engines, steam turbines, and gas turbines. Renewable sources like solar panels and wind turbines provide supplementary power.

How can cruise ships be more ecofriendly?

Cruise ships can become more eco-friendly by using shore power connections, installing new technologies like fuel cells and rotor sails, adopting biofuels, and optimizing energy management.

Are cruise ships environmentally?

While improving, cruise ships do have a significant environmental impact due to their fossil fuel use, greenhouse gas emissions, and waste generation. However, new regulations and voluntary initiatives are driving adoption of cleaner energy sources.

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