Who doesn’t enjoy zipping around the bay or the lake in a peppy little bowrider or a spacious party barge? But in addition to the maintenance costs, the environmental cost of boats powered by fossil fuels can be significant — not just the emissions, but the inevitable run-off of gas and oil that tends to happen over time with marine ICEs. If a new report by analyst firm IDTechEx is on track, our choices for fully electric watercraft — or electric retrofits and outboard motors for existing boats — may be expanding significantly over the next decade.
According to the new report, “Electric Boats and Ships 2017–2027,” the market for non-military electric watercraft and marine motors will balloon to over $20 billion worldwide by 2027. The report states that there are already over 100 manufacturers of electric boats, ships and motors, with the largest growing segment in terms of unit volume being recreational boats, followed by underwater leisure craft and then by autonomous underwater vehicles. Who knew there was such high interest in self-driving personal submarines?
IDTechEx analysts say that on-water commercial marine vehicles is currently the largest opportunity for EVs and hybrids in terms of gross sales. As more legislation and regulations limiting pollution from fossil fuels go into effect worldwide, it’s expected that modern hybrid and pure electric cargo ships will become more economically attractive than their ICE counterparts. And with local bans against ICE craft on waterways becoming more common all around the world, the recreational marine EV market is also expected to grow quickly.
The report also reminds us that hybrid and pure electric marine vessels are nothing new. Electric-powered marine vehicles have been around for well over 100 years. The electric boat Lady Lena dates back all the way to 1890 and is still in operation in the United Kingdom as a fully electric charter vessel. Today, sales of EV and hybrid watercraft are still extremely low, with only about 1% to 2% of the addressable market, but this is expected to grow quickly over the next ten years.
Pure electric boats (electric motor powered by one or more battery packs) are seen as being best suited to small and medium craft. Hybrid “electric drive” systems, which use some type of fuel to generate electricity for the propulsion systems, are seen as being best-suited for larger, long range craft.
Beyond sales of new electric boats, the analysts say there is already a substantial and growing business in the retrofit of ferries and other ships with pure electric or hybrid electric power trains. With the popularity of outboard motors on pontoon boats, ski-boats, fishing boats, and other recreational craft, the report states that there is the “potential to sell hundreds of thousands of pure electric outboard motors yearly as they become more affordable and more energy harvesting is provided on the craft to charge the batteries, improving range.” As with EV automobiles, the long-term cost of ownership and maintenance of marine EVs is expected to plummet due to cheap electricity, energy harvesting, lower battery costs, and improved reliability. The report details the many new forms of energy harvesting which can help stretch out those kilowatt-hours (and range).
The report details many of the advantages of marine EVs over traditional ICE boats, including:
- More opportunities for autonomous navigation
- Silent, unobtrusive wildlife tours due to quiet operation
- Better acceleration for ski boats and speed boats due to instant torque electric drive train
- Military benefits: little or no heat or sound signature attracting unwanted attention (and missiles)
- Energy independence by harvesting sun, waves, tide, and wind
- Lower up-front cost for small vessels and potentially lowest cost of ownership for vessels of all sizes
- Environmental advantages: reducing deaths & sickness of humans and wildlife from local air and water pollution.
One of the key factors that the report says will drive adoption is improvements in battery performance and reliability as well as lower battery costs. Tesla’s Gigafactory (and the like) and ongoing improvements in energy density should help drive battery costs as well as overall battery weight down significantly over time.
This comprehensive report is not inexpensive — over $4,500. It’s intended primarily for institutional investors, manufacturers and legislators. But you can read more about it on the IDTechEx website.
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