Damen Product Director Ferries, Henk Grunstra, on Damen’s move into the world of electric propulsion for marine-based public transportation
The electrification of ships is no longer just a prospect for the future; electrification is here. Right now, as part of its E-Cross Ferries programme Damen is constructing electric ferries of all sizes, from passenger only to those able to carry vehicles. These cutting-edge vessels feature the entire spectrum of current propulsion options – from diesel-electric with on board power generation to fully electric using a shore-based power source.
"This is not to say we’ve got this covered; electrification is one steep learning curve. Electrification of ships is new, but with the E-Cross series, we’ve made a good start", says Damen Product Director Ferries Henk Grunstra.
Firm foundations in ferries
Certainly ferries present a good starting point – the predictable nature of their operations, working to a regular route and schedule – allows a shipyard to tailor the propulsion exactly to the vessel’s operational profile. This predictability is critical for developing vessels with electric propulsion.
“During the design process for one electric ferry, the client came back to us and said, ‘Actually, we’ve decided we want to change the route, it’s now this’,” he says gesturing. “The change was a 31% extension of the route. So we went back to the drawing board to see what we could do. The answer was not quite so simple as you might imagine. The new profile required completely different batteries, in turn requiring an almost completely different boat. It’s early days for this technology right now. The slightest change to the plans sets off a chain reaction that can threaten cost increases and jeopardise redundancy.”
Neither of which outcomes is much of an option. Increased costs are likely to make electrification less popular in both public and private sectors, while redundancy is critical in a vessel that is, essentially, a lifeline for communities, as Henk explains. “If there’s a storm and it takes out the power, then people still need to get to hospital.”
The predictability of a ferry operation, however, brings its own challenges. Marine-based public transport invariably requires a customised approach. Each operation is unique – it has its own route and its vessels their own capacity and size requirements, for which the right-sized batteries must be selected.
“For example, we approached a project in Canada with a view to using docking solutions we had seen successfully applied in Norway, but it turned out that they just were not suitable for this project. Although the operations of each ferry are predictable and routine, they are also unique to the route that they serve.”
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