Speed, Less Emissions
Within the next ten years, zero-emission fast ferries capable of reaching speeds of 40 knots will be operating in Norway.
Advancements in propulsion technology are helping drive development forward with hybrid and fully electric vessels already in operation. There is also interest from Asia in importing the technology.
When the Green Coastal Programme went into effect in 2015, the goal was to ensure further collaborations between private and public authorities that focused on the development of environmentally-friendly vessels. Ferry operators in Norway were among the first to adapt.
Some of that was born out of necessity. Ferry operators were competing for routes overseen by federal and municipal agencies. They were requiring operators submitting tenders to serve these routes to include low or zero emission vessel investment as part of their bid. This regulation helped speed up progress which some operators had begun working on years ago.
“Fast ferries started being optimised 15 years ago in Norway. They were made smaller and more efficient. In the last five years, there has been a drive to get
hybrid vessels up and running. Now we are seeing hybrid and some fully electric vessels already operational. The energy storage limits mean speeds only reach 18-20 knots, but progress is being made,” Mr Torleif Stokke, Managing Director at Servogear, says.
Servogear is committed to developing optimised propulsion systems that reduce energy consumption as it looks to lend its expertise to a rapidly evolving space.
“Our focus has been to design and optimise propulsion for highspeed ferries. We have continuously developed the technology so efficiency is increased and performance at high speeds improves,” Mr Stokke notes. “Energy sources are also changing to electric which has meant we needed to develop new ways of driving propellers. This has opened up other possibilities since electrical energy sources allow us to utilise the propulsion system even better.”
Servogear and its partner, Brunvoll Mar-El, developed a plugin hybrid propulsion system that is now being used in the world’s first diesel-electric hybrid fast-ferry. The vessel, Fjordled, began operations last year and highlights what propulsion technology is capable of. According to Mr Stokke, time and further requests from those agencies overseeing ferry routes are needed to take the next step.
“We know now that it is possible to have a zero-emission fast ferry that can reach speeds of 40 knots. It just needs time for the technology to be implemented and tested. We expect the government to ask for tenders for zero emission fast ferries in Norway,” Mr Stokke explains. “Within ten years, fast ferries in the country will be zero emission vessels and there could be as many as 70-80 in operation.”
Of course, there is also a business element to the innovations being developed by Servogear. The company wants to cultivate technology that reduces emissions and improves performance while also providing a cost savings to operators.
“If you can reduce fuel consumption, you can reduce emissions. In some ways, this is building on our motto. We hope we can make a small contribution to fighting climate change. It motivates us
to keep going. And there are business opportunities for the company and ship operators as well. We can be successful in both areas,” Mr Stokke points out.
He continues, “We have been investing in the business and moving it towards solutions that could support hybrid and zero emission vessels. Customers are asking for these projects, but there are clients who are still working with diesel mechanics and that remains our core business. There is a shift coming and nearly half of our propulsion systems will be on hybrid or zero emission vessels in the next six to eight years. Hopefully, this builds our reputation and allows us to continue our business.”
While the impact of Servogear’s propulsion advancements can be seen in Norway, the company has also started making inroads in Asia as well. In addition to participating in the NorwayAsia Business Summit 2019, the firm travelled to Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia in order to meet local partners and explore future endeavours in the region.
“In Asia, the timing is good for us. There is interest in technology that lowers fuel consumption and reduces environmental impact. Our words are not falling on deaf ears here,” Mr Stokke notes. “It is possible for us to grow in the Asian market. We have several proposals from companies in the region and the response in general has urged us to work harder.”
Servogear technology is currently being tested on workboats in China’s Special Autonomous Regions. According to Mr Stokke, the initial feedback has been positive, and the company hopes it is in a position to expand the partnership in the future.
The company has also found success in providing solutions for windfarm support vessels. Servogear has provided energy-efficient propulsion technology for more than twenty of Windcat Workboats’ vessels, and a total of more than 80 vessels in the European Winfarm CTV market. The propulsion system of these vessels requires special characteristics in order to keep the them stable against the floating turbine. This experience could help the company in China where the offshore wind industry is growing rapidly.
“China is currently building a lot of offshore wind parks and they will need many vessels to support these operations. By opting for hybrid vessels, they could be eliminating a potential source of additional pollution in coastal areas which has been an area of concern for the government,” Mr Stokke points out.
And these are just a couple areas Servogear can contribute to in Asia. A glance across the Huangpu River while Mr Stokke was in Shanghai revealed the true potential energy-efficient propulsion could have in the region.
“When I was in Shanghai, I saw a lot of vessels on the water. You had ferries, sightseeing ships, catamarans, coast guard boats and more. You could retrofit these vessels with more efficient propulsion systems as well as hybrid or zero emission technology. They just have to make the decision to do so,” Mr Stokke says. “We want to contribute to the proliferation of low and zero emission ferries and ensure that it becomes viable. But we also want to help clients improve profitability and reduce operating costs for vessels.”
Servogear has completed retrofit projects in the past and these have been found to pay shipowners back quickly.
“If a vessel is operational let’s say 3,000-6,000 hours a year, reducing fuel costs can be a huge source of savings. Since fuel is usually the largest cost in a ship’s OPEX budget, reducing that is important. We see in many projects 30 percent or more reductions. And if you are reducing the amount of fuel being used, obviously the amount of emissions being produced drops as well,” Mr Stokke states. “This is an area where we need to share our knowledge and show what type of savings can be achieved.”
With local pollution in many parts of Asia regularly reaching unhealthy levels, finding new ways to reduce emissions is becoming increasingly important. Especially in coastal and river areas that are highly dependent upon fast ferries and other forms of water transportation.
“In Norway, reducing pollution from fast ferries was an important topic. They are energy demanding vessels and emissions per passenger can be significantly higher than a bus. But that also doesn’t factor in that the bus needs infrastructure, such as roads being built and maintained, to operate. All of these create additional emissions,” Mr Stokke notes. “The sea doesn’t require all this infrastructure. If you can reduce the emissions fast ferries produce, they can contribute quite a bit to solving pollution caused by transportation in some areas.”
Ultimately, the speed of the shift from polluting vessels to low or zero emission ones will be determined by the willingness of countries in Asia to enact regulations that emphasises the use of this technology.
“We need regulatory authorities and decision makers to support this. The technology being used to support low or zero emission vessels will be risky before it matures because of the price. But if regulation supports low and zero emission vessels over traditional ones, the shift happens more quickly,” Mr Stokke proclaims. “The price of polluting needs to be higher in order for adaptation to be incentivised.”
Above left: Fjordled, the world’s first diesel-electric hybrid fast-ferry, uses a plugin hybrid propulsion system developed by Servogear and Brunvoll Mar-El. Above: Mr Torleif Stokke, Managing Director at Servogear, seen at NABS 2019. The company has received positive feedback from clients in Asia