Freight shipping has a huge carbon footprint. It is true that the carbon footprint is far lower than freight carried by air, however this does not help.
However, it is also true that these ships do not travel particularly fast. With the new kite sails designs where a kite with roughly 100 square meters area, and the ability to be flown above 100m – an area where the wind speeds and directions are far more reliable.
In this way, once ships are out at see, and travelling in a steady direction, the engine can be turned off, and the sail sent up into the sky. The kite is capable of pulling the ship at a similar speed to its current cruising speed.
These kite systems can cut fuel use by 80-90% in a trans-Atlantic crossing. These sorts of savings are a huge deal for the finances of the ships in question, as well as the reduction in pollution. It is true, that these kite systems are not cheap, however, increasing numbers of these firms recognize the business sense of going this way.
While they will not look like the sailing ships of the 18th century, these kite sailing ships look set to become standard in the next few decades. We must only hope therefore that this move happens much faster so that we can harvest the climate possibilities while we are facing the changing climate.
Another question arises at this point. If the majority of the crossings are done under wind power, does this not open up the possibility of electric freight ships? if the ship only needs to power itself out into the open ocean (shipping lanes are generally roughly 20 miles off shore) could we get rid of the diesel engine all together and replace it with an electric engine? if the engine is only used to exit and enter port, and we can find a way to cover some of the freight with strong solar panels, the ship can make the power it needs to re-enter port on its journey. This way, battery powered electric ships do not need to be able to power the whole crossing, they merely need to be able to power the first few and last few hours, reducing the required size of the battery to manageable levels.