Eighty percent of the 91,000 vessels plying the world’s oceans and inland waterways are small or medium sized. With today’s technology, many could become fully or partially electric.

Norway has emerged as an early leader in the push for electric power. The 1,600-gt ferry Ampere (built 2015), which serves a heavily trafficked crossing in a region touted as the gateway to the nation’s extensive network of iconic fjords, is at the centre of this crusade.

Today, less than a decade after the world’s first fully electric ferry first hit the water, all 200 vessels in the Norwegian fleet are on the verge of a large-scale upgrade. The speed and brevity of this evolution serves as a testament to what is possible when politics and private industry unite. It also begs the question: how did we get here?

History Lesson: The early days of Norway’s electric revolution

“The Norwegian Public Roads Administration issued a public procurement for the car ferry between Lavik and Oppedal as a development contract for zero-emissions ferries. We love these types of contracts. It’s a great way to push for new environmental technology in a competitive market,” recalls Jacob Engelsen, CEO of Norled, Ampere’s operator.

In the autumn 2015, after months of sailing without issue, the Norwegian parliament stepped in. Research conducted by Siemens and Bellona determined two-thirds of all Norwegian ferries could be electrified using the same technologies that were powering the Ampere. The absence of technical barriers prompted politicians to require all publicly operated ferries to adopt zero-emissions technology from that point forward. Terms of subsequent tenders were modified accordingly. The rest is history.

On top of the world

New batteries, new era

Suppliers of marine technology have been actively exploring alternative power sources for years. In the beginning, fuel costs and the quest for operational efficiencies were the key drivers of this research. Today, its carbon emissions.

“We’ve been working for 25 years to develop electro-technical solutions for boats and offshore installations. The motivation for customers and for us is to reduce the use of fossil fuels,” explains Odd Moen, the head of business development at Siemens.

“We’ve always been aware that, if only we could resolve some of the challenges associated with electrical technology, we’d be able to offer customers more profitable solutions."

MASSIVE CARBON SAVINGS

• Siemens expects the maritime market to double by 2024. Nearly 80% of all new small and medium-sized vessels up to 150 metres, roughly size of a Hurtigruten ferry, will be equipped with hybrid power solutions.

• The Trondheim battery factory has set its sights on a stake in the international market for maritime batteries, which is projected to grow considerably in the coming years.

• The Norwegian Public Roads Administration has calculated that, by 2022, ferry emissions will be reduced by 300,000 tonnes of CO2 per year, the equivalent of emissions from 150,000 cars.

The key to innovation, Moen says, is a combination of resources, willpower and competitive drive.

“We run the industry like an elite sport," he continues. "We want to be constantly at the leading edge of technological developments so we can come up with solutions to problems that our customers have described, instead of just receiving orders. Towards the end of the last decade, we saw that battery solutions were developing in such a way that they could potentially contribute to a quantum leap for maritime applications."

Without adoption, innovation is meaningless, which is why Norway is accelerating efforts to cultivate markets for locally-development technologies overseas.

Electric ferries are at the centre of a broader global initiative but the nation is equally committed to exploiting additional domestic opportunities as well. These include Norway's extensive fleet of small to medium-sized offshore support vessels and fishing boats.

Charting the spread of Norway's electric revolution

Apart from ferries, electrification in other segments of the maritime industry has been limited. Some sectors are making more progress than others, however.

SalMar, a Norwegian salmon farming conglomerate, took delivery of the aquaculture industry's first electric workboat, the Elfrida, in 2017. Now, in 2019, the same company that operates Ampere is in the process of electrifying three other passenger ferries. In the offshore oil, gas and wind markets, hybrid solutions are gaining traction as rising demand fuels further research and development.

The world's first all-electric fishing vessel

For many years the Karoline, designed by Norwegian shipbuilder Selfa Arctic and delivered in 2015, was the only fully-electric commercial fishing vessel in operation.

Elsewhere in the seafood segment, for many years the Karoline was the only electric fishing vessel in operation. While that's no longer the case, orders for similar tonnage aren't flooding in, observers concede.

“There is no regulation to say that fishing vessels must be emissions-free; instead, fishermen are exempt from many of the costs that could be saved by electrification, such as carbon tax and NOX tax. Even the diesel they use is subsidised. In 2016, these subsidies were worth NOK 460 million ($53.2m),” Moen notes.

In lieu of diesel subsidies, Moen believes this money could be used to kick-start what he describes as a "green wave" in the commercial seafood arena and other ocean industries.

“There are 5,100 fishing vessels operating in Norway, and 3,000 of these can be electrified," he continues. "For boats under 11 metres, it’s possible to save approximately 60% of the fuel, and approximately 40% for the remaining vessels. Overall, in Norway, this corresponds to a reduction of 180,000 tonnes of fuel and 540,000 tonnes of CO2.

A feasibility study conducted by Siemens, in collaboration with Bellona, indicates that electrifying the nation’s coastal fishing fleet could improve efficiency, create a better working environment, cut fuel costs and reduce maintenance, which could, in turn, drive greater profitability for Norwegian anglers.

Electric workhorses offshore

As the largest oil and gas operator on the Norwegian shelf, Equinor is an active charterer of offshore support vessels. In 2014, the company launched an initiative aimed at reducing its carbon footprint. Today, the company only deals with tonnage that complies with its own emissions requirements, and is actively involved in the push for battery-operated and hybrid tonnage of all types.

“Our transport is 26% more energy-efficient now,” says Frida Eklof Monstad, vice president of logistics and emergency response at Equinor.

The world's first hybrid rig

The West Mira, an ultra-deepwater semi-submersible operated by Seadrill, is equipped with a lithium-ion battery charged by the rig's diesel-electric generator. Savings have been described as “considerable”.

Drilling rigs, too, can rely on battery power for parts of their operations, particularly during the transport phase. Here, Equinor has modified its payment model to make it worthwhile for rig owners to invest in low emissions solutions.

“Rigs with low emissions are evaluated and rewarded when it comes to awarding contracts," Monstad explains. "In addition, the owners get a fixed price to cover fuel consumption, which makes it profitable to reduce consumption and, therefore, also emissions. The fixed price takes account of the work tasks performed."

The Big Picture: ‘Dirty’ power

Norway is not the only place where electrification benefits both the environment and the bottom line. Electric motors are more efficient than diesel engines. While there are pollutants associated with the production of electricity, emissions remain reduced.

HOW BIG ARE BATTERIES?

• Batteries in most of the electric cars purchased in Norway are between 40 and 98 kWh

• The battery packs found on offshore vessels and rigs that utilise a hybrid solution are usually 500 kWh

• For ferries built for fully-electrical operation in Norway, batteries are between 1 and 2.2 MWh

• With an output of 7,200 kW the latest charging stations for Moss–Horten ferries could charge a Tesla in under a minute

Dramatic developments in renewable energy are materialising all over the world– from wind, solar and other sources of cleaner energy. Research by the Union of Concerned Scientists posits that emissions associated with cars powered by fossil fuel are 50% higher than those of a typical electric vehicle.

The Big Picture: 'Smart' electricity

On the consumer level, smarter ways of using electricity include charging household appliances during times of the day when demand is lowest. This would, in turn, make it easier for the power grid to take on more electric cars, boats and machines.

Siemens is among the growing list of companies exploring technologies that enable machines to take a smarter approach to power consumption.

Vehicle-to-grid, a solution where electric vehicles can feed electricity into the power grid from their batteries when they are not in use, are already available to consumers in and outside of Norway. This enables cars to recharge at times when they pose the least amount of stress to the power grid.