Hello and welcome to your daily ChargeSmart blog! Today, we will be looking at a new wave of electric ferries that will hit shores soon. Electric vehicles have made huge strides in recent years with electric cars becoming more feasible along with electric bikes being launched. There’s even an electric racing series and soon there will be an electric rally racing series as well! So, what’s next for EVs you may ask? The answer to that question as it turns out is in the form of electric ferries.
Above: A diesel ferry
Earlier this month, news broke that the world's second largest ferry operator was making the switch from diesel to battery power. Washington State Ferries in the U.S say that their ferries consume as much fuel as a midsized airline. That's quite a revelation! The company’s public information officer said that the move would not only reduce cost but also pollution that’s caused by their current fleet. The company currently uses almost 20 million gallons of fuel per year across their current fleet of ferries which is about 75 million litres of diesel per year! That’s quite an eye opener. In their defence though, the ferries carry around 25 million people per-year but we don’t really want to defend diesels here because let’s face it, they are going extinct. I’m sure you don’t want us to mention the dieselgate scandal again. Anyway, it doesn’t really seem that Washington State Ferries are too keen to defend their diesels either. Because of the fact that they are the state’s biggest diesel polluter. That’s not a title that any company would want to have and so Washington State Ferries is keen to lose it.
The government owned ferry operator is one of the bodies spearheading the EV revolution in the area. The state governor recently passed legislation that would force companies to make the switch to electric zero emission vehicles. However, Washington State Ferries maintain that they are not switching to EVs just because the governor told them to do so.
The benefits of electric ferries
There are quite a few benefits to having electric ferries. For starters, the boats are much much quieter. So you don’t have to worry about losing hearing temporarily while the massive diesel engine of the boat bellows and takes the boat out of the harbour. This is true especially if you’re on a car ferry, those things are pretty bloody noisy. Then there’s the other benefit of not having exhaust fumes blown in your face. Even if you care little for the environment, the taxpayer will benefit from not having to pay for the diesel to fill those diesel guzzling ferries up. Something that will save millions of dollars every year for the taxpayer. The company has already been looking into switching from diesel to liquid natural gasses from around 2012 but they felt that the technology wasn’t ready to be used in ferries just yet. However, the massive improvements in battery technology because of cars ironically has meant that electric ferries are an idea that is now seriously being considered. Taking into account all of that, the PR officer said that their customers would be using electric ferries in the next few years.
The issues with making the switch
There are some issues with electrifying ferries though, the biggest barrier would be the time that’s needed to upgrade the infrastructure to make EV ferries commonplace. Sizable charging stations need to be installed and electricity supply agreement need to be drawn up because charging ferries isn’t like charging cars, there’s a whole lot more electricity involved in the former. There’s another dilemma where Washington State Ferries runs a route across Puget Sound, covering a distance of more than 1600 kilometres. A journey that will require a ferry packed with cells, possibly reducing the carrying capacity. The company however maintains an optimistic view on the future of their electric ferries and the plan is to phase out the worst polluting ferries which consume more than 19 million litres of fuel every year! Each ferry has four diesel engines on board and the new project will involve removing two of those engines and replacing them with battery systems supplies by Siemens, a German multinational.
The electrification revolution
The Jumbo Mark 2 ships which are the largest in the fleet will be the first to undergo electrification. The company forecasts that by switching just 3 of these large ferries to electric will be the equivalent of removing 10,000 diesel cars off the road! Just take a second to wrap your head around that figure. Washington State Ferries isn’t the first to investigate alternative fuels for ferries with British Columbia Ferry Services switching to liquid natural gas a few years ago. They too are also seriously considering electrification of ferries currently. Earlier this year, a Danish company launched the world’s largest all electric ferry. It’s called Ellen and can carry 200 people plus 30 cars between a stretch of land in Denmark which is a brilliant step forward for electric public transport. The U.K government also passed legislation that all new ships ordered for service from 2025 onwards would have to be equipped with zero emission technology. In other words, EV ferries will probably be floating around on European waterways by the end of the next decade.
Maybe one day we will be taking a trip over to Waiheke Island on a ferry that doesn't emit any smoke or make any noise!