Danish operator Ærø Kommune's prototype electric ferry project will lead to widespread use of fully-electric power in the ferry sector, says Rebecca Moore.
Creation of the electric ferry, or E-ferry, prototype Ellen, due for delivery in May in Denmark for Ærø Kommune, involves designing, building and demonstrating a fully electric-powered ‘green’ ferry which can sail without CO2 emissions.
The project is supported by the European Commission's nearly €80Bn (US$90.5Bn) research and innovation initiative Horizon 2020 (H2020), and represents an important step in bringing carbon-free technology to the ferry sector, as the E-ferry is receiving the funding to provide a business case to encourage other operators to invest in fully battery-operated newbuilds.
As Ærø Kommune E-ferry project co-ordinator Trine Heinemann said to me, “It is similar to electric cars – no one wants to be first, as what if it doesn’t work or it turns out to be too expensive?”
Ellen is confronting and overcoming these concerns. With its route covering a 22-nautical mile crossing, it will travel a greater distance than any other all-electric ferry and will have the largest battery pack installed at sea. As such, the ferry is likely to pave the way for others to build electric ferries without a back-up emergency generator, offering a model to other operators for how to overcome similar technical challenges.
To cope without an emergency generator, extra redundancy has been created by splitting the battery system into 20 separate units, so if there is an issue with one, the ferry only loses one-twentieth of its available power -- a distinct advantage over the two battery unit configuration used on other vessels.
Perhaps more important than its technological advancement, though, the E-ferry will demonstrate to other ferry operators that building an all-electric model will pay and provide a return on investment.
As part of its EU funding, Ærø Kommune is required to log all data to provide concrete numbers on the operational costs of running a ferry. This is significant in promoting the concept to other operators because the upfront costs of building this type of ferry are higher than building a diesel alternative. Building a follow-up ferry to Ellen (as a prototype, Ellen's development will lower costs for vessels that follow), is expected to cost €18M (US$20M) versus €13.5M (US$15.3M) for a conventional diesel ferry.
The capex differential is overcome by savings on opex. Operational costs of the E-ferry are forecast to be €500,000 (US$565,000) a year less than a diesel alternative – and the savings may well exceed the estimate.
While such ferries are built mainly for their environmental benefits rather than cost savings, many ferry operators need proof of a return on investment before signing on the dotted line, and the decision to record and openly publish operational data from the E-ferry project will enable that.
Building an all-electric ferry is a big step for ferry operators, but this newbuild will play an important role in making the technology accessible to other operators, providing transparency on costs and return on investment to help convince others to take the leap. There will be more of its kind to come, I am convinced.