The State of Washington operates the one of the largest ferry fleets in world. Visitors to the Seattle area are well familiar with the sight of its green and white ferries crisscrossing Puget Sound all day every day, almost all of them powered by diesel engines. Combined, they suck down about 20 million gallons of diesel fuel a year, which means they are spewing enormous amounts of carbon dioxide and particulate matter in their wake.
Under the leadership of Washington Governor Jay Inslee — one of the few political leaders in the US who takes climate change seriously — the management of the state ferry system has made a serious commitment to reducing pollution from its ferries by converting some existing vessels to electric power and calling for any new ferries to be primarily battery electric vessels.
Ian Sterling, a public information officer for Washington State Ferries, told Greentech Media at the end of last year, “The government-owned ferry operator’s annual fuel consumption is on par with that of a ‘midsize airline,’ making it the state’s biggest diesel polluter.” He added the switch to batteries is “not just because the governor said [to do] it. Even if you’re not an environmentalist, this is a good idea for the taxpayer because we expect it to pay for itself relatively quickly, based on the price of fuel. It saves millions of dollars annually.”
The ferry operator has begun converting three of its Jumbo Mark II ferries to electricity. Those three vessels alone consume 5 million gallons of fuel a year. Each of them will have two of its four diesel generators and locomotive engines replaced with battery systems supplied by Siemens.
Now Vigor Shipyards, which builds vessels in the Pacific Northwest, has been awarded a contract to build new battery-powered Olympic class ferries for the state of Washington. The first of the new vessels is scheduled to enter service in 2024. Each will have a capacity of 144 cars and 1,500 passengers.
“This landmark project supports Washington State’s goal for 2050 to reduce emissions by 57.5 per cent below the emissions level in 2019, utilising a hybrid and electric propulsion solution that is space-efficient, easy to install and flexible in operation,” Jay Hebert, vice president of marine fabrication at Vigor, tells Cruise and Ferry magazine.
“Vigor is delighted to partner with ABB in this remarkable work prompted by the commitment of Washington Governor Jay Inslee, the state legislature and Washington State Ferries to replace aging ferries with clean technology in alignment with the state’s commitment to environmental stewardship,” he added.
By 2040, the ferry service expects to replace 13 of its current ships with vessels that operate primarily on electricity (they will have diesel engines as a backup power source) and convert 6 more ferries to become plug-in hybrid vessels, saving more than 10 million gallons of diesel fuel from being burned each year. The electrification project will require the installation of high power chargers at the ferry terminals where the electric ships will dock.
“Moving towards a zero emission future relies on technologies that meet the environmental and cost needs of today and offer flexibility to integrate future energy sources in the years ahead,” says Juha Koskela, managing director of ABB Marine & Ports. “ABB is delighted to support this milestone project demonstrating the way that electric, digital and connected solutions can deliver shipping’s zero-emission future.”
Seattle joins several other ferry services in Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and elsewhere that are transitioning from diesel ferries to electric or hybrid electric ferries in order to lower costs and reduce emissions from the vessels they operate. Saving the planet is nice, but doing it in a way that saves companies and taxpayers money is even better.
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