Charging ahead a bright future for zero emission ferries

Charging ahead - A bright future for zero-emissions ferries

3 min read

30 Oct 2020


Ian Hamilton



3 min read

30 Oct 2020


Ian Hamilton



Increasing pressure from regulators and rising public expectations are driving ferry owners and operators to work to reduce their emissions. Although the response to this pressure has varied based on national priorities, in time all countries will be affected as stricter global requirements on ship owners, operators and harbours continue to come into force. Wärtsilä’s zero-emissions and hybrid ferry solutions can support the future of zero-emissions marine transport by helping operators to reduce their emissions through the use of onboard energy storage and onshore charging technology.


Wärtsilä zero-emissions technology supports the fulfilment of legal requirements

At present, the level of funding and infrastructure available for reducing the emissions of ferry operation varies from one country to another, with some taking more proactive steps than others towards a future with zero emissions. Norway is leading the way at this stage thanks to a drive towards lower emissions backed by a government programme of grants and funding. International regulations that seek to restrict emissions and increase the availability of shore power are expected to tighten over the coming years, meaning that all countries will have to step up their efforts in order to reach the required levels.

Wärtsilä’s global reach and advanced solutions leave the company well-placed to respond to this increasing pressure, collaborating with government bodies and harbour administrators to develop sustainable strategies and solutions. Wärtsilä’s advanced zero-emissions technology can help to reduce emissions across the board, with batteries for onboard energy storage alongside a fast charging system and renewable power on shore. For those not ready for full zero-emissions technology, the company’s hybrid technology can reduce emissions by up to 30% compared to standard propulsion systems.


Working towards more efficient energy management

Ingve Sørfonn, RDC Manager at Wärtsilä, says that the company has worked hard in recent years to develop Smart Marine solutions that lower the shipping industry’s carbon footprint. “We’ve done a lot of research and development over the past 10 years, and we continue to do so, testing different hybrid systems, electrical operations, wired and wireless charging systems and looking into various green fuels and electrical power systems. We’ve also worked together with our Voyage business unit on autonomous operations like auto-crossing and auto-docking which, although their main aim is to make operations safer and more consistent, also have the potential to save energy.”

Wärtsilä’s hybrid and zero-emissions propulsion technologies feature the unique energy management system (EMS). “This is one of the key features in the design of our system,” says Jon Storholt, Manager, Power & Systems Integration at Wärtsilä. “The EMS is the brain of the system, capable of connecting and optimising power sources and demands to deliver efficient propulsion while controlling this process in an efficient and stable way. The EMS is also able to adapt to the surrounding technology as new storage and fuel systems are developed.” Alongside the reduction in emissions, zero-emission technology also offers increased efficiency and lower noise levels. “Onboard, you have advanced power electronics and an energy management control system that gives more than 80% overall efficiency,” explains Sørfonn. “The efficient use of available energy leads to lower energy costs and reduced maintenance requirements, offering savings of up to 50% in operational costs.”


Boreal Sjö ferries showcase zero-emissions capabilities

In recognition of its battery-based zero-emissions and hybrid propulsion solutions, Wärtsilä was awarded a contract in April 2020 to design and equip two new zero-emissions ferries for Norwegian operator Boreal Sjö. The ferries, which are 30 and 50 metres long and will be built at Holland Shipyards in the Netherlands, will feature thruster motors, batteries, onboard and shore-based battery charging equipment, back-up generators and various electrical systems provided by Wärtsilä. Storholt says it’s important that the ferries operate as expected: “Our job is to ensure that all the components work together as smoothly as possible by integrating the energy storage, power conversion and power management systems. Our installation simplifies the power distribution by using DC power instead of AC and we’re also able to optimise the system performance based on actual data, which prolongs the life of the vessels.”

Sørfonn highlights that Wärtsilä’s level of involvement in the design process was important: “Onshore there is a transformer and a transfer system, as well as a control system that communicates with the vessel using a wireless link to the bridge. Being in charge of this integration while also carrying out the complete design of the ferries simplified the overall process, making it easier to integrate the various technologies. Importantly, this also allows us to access details about energy consumption, which is really crucial for electric vessels and would not have been as easy to achieve with a design that was not fully integrated by a single supplier.”


What does the future hold for zero-emissions ferry propulsion systems?

Even though international requirements are putting pressure on ferry owners and operators to develop zero-emissions technology, Storholt believes that the industry is quickly moving in this direction in any case: “I would say that zero emissions is already becoming a new standard for ferries, so we’re not just talking about the future here. The rapid advancement of battery energy efficiency has also been a factor in enabling ferry companies, in particular those operating commuter and short-distance routes, to meet clean air and reduced noise policies.”

Sørfonn agrees, adding that these developments will enable more extensive use of the technology: “As the trend continues, we’ll be able to introduce this kind of emission-saving technology for even larger ferries travelling longer distances. To do this, we need more development and investment in renewable power capacity and infrastructures in docking areas, as well as further advances in battery technology. With increasing demand for zero-emissions ferries and costs coming down compared to traditional ferries, zero-emissions options are becoming more and more attractive for operators.”

“The developments in propulsion technology and onshore infrastructures that we are seeing fall in line with Wärtsilä’s Smart Marine Ecosystem vision, which seeks to lead the way towards more sustainable and efficient societies through the development of a Smart Marine Ecosystem supporting vessels, ports and the surrounding ecosystem,” Sørfonn continues, concluding that “this ongoing drive requires a broader approach with collaboration between a wide range of players including harbour owners, ship owners and utility companies. Everything is interconnected, and everyone is dependent upon each other’s contribution for it to work – and we’re here to play our part.”

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