Twenty electric car ferries in traffic in western Norway

Source: press release, 4 November 2020

For many western Norway motorists, the daily commute includes crossing fjords by car ferries
For many western Norway motorists, the daily commute includes crossing fjords by car ferries (photo: Skyss)

In western Norway, 20 car ferries in the road network are being electrified, reducing CO2 emissions by almost 90%. The political goal is to reduce emissions in line with the 2° C target, and the effect of the large procurements is a large step ahead for marine battery technology.

On the west coast of Norway, the roads are winding their way through a stunning scenery of fjords, mountains and islands. For many motorists it is a daily routine to pass numerous road tunnels (some of them among the world’s longest) and to cross the fjords by car ferries. Ferries are a crucial part of the road network, and for several island communities, an indispensable link to the mainland. In the region surrounding Norway’s second largest city Bergen, 17 ferry routes are trafficked by 20 double-ended car ferries. Until recently, the fleet of vessels had an average age of 29 years, and running on diesel engine technology, the ferry operation left a sizeable pollution and CO2 footprint.

The region has now invested a record sum of more than EUR 400 million in electrifying the ferry fleet. In the course of 2020, all the old diesel ferries are replaced by 20 mostly new and some retrofit hybrid electric ferries, in the world’s largest electric ferry procurement.

“This is a large step for our region in reducing transport emissions,” says Målfrid Vik Sønstabø, director of Skyss, the public authority that is responsible for ferry operations as well as all of public transport in the county of Vestland.

Powered by waterfalls
In Norway, most of the electricity is produced by emission-free hydropower. The oil producing country can thus run cars, buses, trains and now also ferries on emission free energy.

“Ferry traffic is traditionally a polluting mode of transport. The car ferry network in Norway alone accounts for 1% of the total Norwegian CO2 emissions. The shift to electricity therefore makes a substantial difference,” Sønstabø points out.

Norway has committed itself to the UN’s climate goal of reducing climate emissions by 50% by 2030. When the previous ferry operation contracts expired between 2018 and 2020, the county politicians seized the opportunity to impose strict environmental requirements in the new tenders. The goal was to cut down emissions to levels at least in line with the 2° C target.

“The tender competition was in principle technology-neutral, but as the tendering model rated CO2 emissions and energy usage 30% of the total contract value, the end result was a total shift to fully electric ferries,” Sønstabø says.

With a fully electrified ferry fleet, the CO2 emissions, energy consumption and fuel consumption is being reduced by up to 90%. The ferries are built with hybrid technology, meaning they can use biodiesel until the charging infrastructure is in place, and on other locations when needed. Emissions will decrease by 40,000 tonnes of CO2 per year, which corresponds to emissions from more than 23,000 private cars.

Large investments
Fourteen of the ferries are brand new. Six of the vessels are retrofit, or newer ferries that have been converted into electricity. Technology development is both fruitful and expensive, but it would in any case have cost money to replace 20 aged ferries. The total investment in 20 new and retrofit ferries is approximately EUR 330 million, in addition to around EUR 70 million for charging infrastructure and power grid upgrades on shore. The government funded parts of the onshore infrastructure through the state-owned enterprise Enova. Enova SF is owned by the Ministry of Climate and Environment and contributes economically to the development of energy and climate technology in private and public undertakings.

Boosting marine tech development
The large procurement has led to faster technological development in marine battery technology, in collaboration between the authorities, ferry operators and Norwegian and European shipyards.

The requirements for electrification have accelerated the supplier industry when it comes to developing components for the construction of electric ferries. This applies especially to battery development, battery production and components within electrical engineering and automation.

The main components and equipment are mainly Norwegian, whereas Norwegian shipyards have collaborated with foreign shipyards on the construction and assembly. Most of the new ferries are built abroad, some of them fully, others steel hulls towed to Norway and equipped by Norwegian shipyards. The new ferries have been put into operation consecutively following their completion at the shipyards, and by early 2021 all the charging infrastructure at the ferry docks will also be completed.

Havyard Group ASA is one of the maritime companies that through several of its subsidiaries has participated in the technological development of electric ferries on the Norwegian west coast, by building battery ferries, delivering ship design and delivering electric propulsion and control systems, including charging systems on board and on shore.

“The strict requirements for energy consumption in the tenders have led to a strengthening of technical expertise and development of tools in the ship design phase, and to world leading energy and control systems for zero-emission vessels based on battery operation. This will in turn be very useful in future projects with low- and zero-emission vessels worldwide,” says Gunnar Larsen, CEO of Havyard Groop ASA.

More comfort for travellers
The electrical operation has led to slightly altered timetables on some connections, due to the need for charging time at the quay. Being hybrids, ferries on some connections will use a combination of electrical operation and biodiesel to ensure a sufficient supply of services.

“By replacing a ferry fleet of an average age of 29 years, the ferries also bring a significant improvement of standard and comfort to the travellers. With electric engines the new ferries are also a lot quieter than the old ones, which is an advantage for both travellers and crew,” says Målfrid Vik Sønstabø.