When making a comparison between electrical buses and electrical ships, it is clear that the bus market runs decades ahead. Like usual, marine/fluvial/inland waterways/offshore… you name the sector yourself… -market runs behind. When Chinese builders are having a conversation over the bus technologies, they refer to “6th or 7th generation”. I hesitate to start using the term “1st generation” for ships, as I really believe that we are not yet there to reach level of word ”generation” what comes to number of vessels in use.
Charasteristic for this segment is that Asia runs ahead, Europe remains stable on a passive slow-motion mode. Some countries like Norway, Sweden and Denmark are showing the way of course, but the big countries seem to move much slower. I guess we are waiting for bullet proof evidence that “new technology” really works. Or the expectation is that electrical concept is so much more expensive that it doesn´t fly. Well Sir, it does. China pushed through technical revolution without hesitation and it seems to turn out successful. And what comes to the price difference, I doubt if there are sufficient numbers of design offices who are capable to evaluate correctly differences between traditional and electrical concept. If I`ve seen an electrical concept on a vessel GA, I still haven`t seen a hull that is build to allow all benefits from free center of gravity and location of the components. Thanks to our numerous vessel building diciplines, not all good happens at the same time.
Electrical ship concept – boundaries now
Fully electrical concept, also known as “all-electric” concept starts to be daily bread to us, who have been involved in the development. This concept may have some challenges which are not yet fully covered by the rule books, but these challenges are something that has been solved already. So if you read this and you consider “Should I?” the answer is “Yes you should!”.
At the moment boundaries of the all-electric concept do come from the time and distance needed for the operation from batteries, also from the fact that batteries for medium voltage level are not existing. Unlike many often points out, the weight challenge concerns only the smallest segments of vessels, more like a boat segment rather than ships. As a trade-off to battery weight, the weight of the fuel tanks and engine room is luckily quite high as well. So the traditional vessel design in most of cases matches for the batteries as well.
These boundaries are setting the concept limits. Practical limitation is pushed all the time, but Ellen in Denmark is a good example of a 40-50 m long vessel in operation with single charging point on its route. That vessel is all-electric with 4MWh battery capacity. When thinking of even larger vessels, the battery capacity and solutions to use it, reaches much higher numbers nowadays.
So… what makes this situation special is, that everything we need is in place already. We have plenty of suppliers for the dedicated equipments, systems with reduced level of requirements and we even have operational experience. Ships like Ampere and Ellen show the way to automatized charging concepts.
Common supply energy?
Why aren’t we then having a discussion, where target is set for 100% emission-free operation at all local transport? Shouldn’t we say out loud that no single operator should define him- or herself how the energy for transport is produced? It is a matter that concerns all of us, our children at least.