A German company is introducing sails it says may help propel ships across the sea cheaper and faster than modern engines. SkySails' system consists of an enormous towing kite and navigation software that can map the best route between two points for maximum wind efficiency. In development for more than four years, the system costs from roughly $380,000 to $3.2 million, depending on the size of the ship it's pulling. SkySails claims it will save one third of fuel costs. It recently signed its first contract with Beluga Shipping of Bremen, Germany, for one kite, but says it expects to sell 300 more within five years. Beluga says that the giant kite will help the company meet environmental regulations as well as cut fuel costs.
The sail systems are meant as a retrofit technology that can work with any cargo ship as well as yachts of more than 79 feet. Ships can use their engines to begin and end voyages and use sail power in lieu of engines for the middle portion. Use both, and you go even faster.
Here's an actual photo:
And a link to a video.
There are some interesting patent applications from SkySail on this technology if anyone is interested: