Norway’s Hurtigruten operates a small fleet of cruise ships that ply the coast of that Nordic country, giving people a chance to witness the wonders of Norway’s fjords in a way that is simply not possible from a bus or a personal vehicle. Now it says it will build a battery electric cruise ship that features actual sails that will be covered in solar panels. The sails will help move the ship forward and the solar panels will help charge the onboard batteries.
Most cruise ships today are hulking behemoths that carry up to 5000 passengers and are powered by diesel engines. Diesel moves the ship, diesel powers the air conditioning, diesel heats the pools, and diesel cooks the food. Hurtigruten has already begun transitioning to more sustainable cruising with three hybrid battery electric ships that reduce carbon emissions by 25% and NOx emissions by 80%. Much of its business involves coastal tours of the fjords that are the main feature of Norway’s crenelated coastline. To give you a taste of what one of these cruises is like, here’s a helpful video from the company:
Hurtigruten specializes in smaller, more intimate cruise ships with a capacity of about 500 passengers. It proudly holds itself out as one of the most environmentally forward thinking companies in the industry.
Last year it announced its “Sea Zero” initiative. In collaboration with 12 maritime partners and SINTEF — a Norwegian research institute — Hurtigruten has been exploring technological solutions that could help to achieve emission-free marine travel. The new zero-emissions ship will run mostly on 60 WM megawatt batteries that can be charged in port with clean energy from Norway’s abundant supply of hydroelectric power. The batteries will have a range of 300 to 350 nautical miles, meaning that during an 11-day round trip, the ship will need to charge about 8 times.
To reduce reliance on the batteries, three retractable sails up to 50 meters (165 feet) high will rise out of the deck. They will capture any available wind to help move the ship through the water. But there’s more to this idea. The sails will be covered with 1,500 square meters (16,000 sq. ft.) of solar panels that will generate energy to top up the batteries while sailing.
The ship will be fitted with 270 cabins to hold 500 guests and 99 crew, and its streamlined shape will result in less air resistance, helping to further reduce energy use. On board, guests will be invited to minimize their own climate impact through an interactive mobile app that monitors their personal water and energy consumption. The electric cruise ship will have a backup engine for safety reasons that will be powered by green fuels — ammonia, methanol, or biofuel.
Over the next two years, Hurtigruten Norway will test its proposed technologies before finalizing the design in 2026. Construction of the first battery electric cruise ship is scheduled to begin in 2027, with the ship entering revenue service in 2030. Thereafter, the company expects to gradually transform its entire fleet to zero emission vessels.
The Path To An Electric Cruise Ship
In an interview with Skift, Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam laid out why his company is so focused on sustainability. “The reason why we are so focused on this is that a lot of our operation has historically been around the poles, both in the south and in north. And that’s where you see the effect of climate change the earliest. I mean personally, seeing the melting glaciers, seeing the changing weather conditions in the high north. It is scary.
“It used to be [we had] very stable cold winters. Now you suddenly have days in the midst of the winter with plus temperatures in celsius and it’s never happened before. The fjords that used to be covered with ice are not covered in ice anymore. On top of that, you have all the pollution on the beaches. That’s what awakened a lot of the people in our company.”
Skjeldam says he is conflicted by the need to protect the environment and the desire by some companies to operate their vessels with dirty bunker oil. “We’re pushing for stronger regulation because we see that a lot of other players in the cruise industry don’t necessarily make these investments until they’re forced to, which is a bit sad. I’m not that strong a believer in regulation. I think business should drive development, not regulators. But when business [refuse to go] in the right direction, we also need regulators to pitch in.”
[There is] a lot of greenwashing and it’s picked up speed since Covid. In 2018 and 2019, the industry didn’t even bother to greenwash. They didn’t want to talk about it. Whereas now the interest around this topic is so intense in many places that the industry can’t hide and they need to discuss it.
“Some of the operators are now starting to disclose more information, which is a good thing. Some even have sustainability reports. We of course do. We are pushing for regulators in Europe to ban heavy fuel oil. We were successful with the Norwegian government banning heavy fuel oil to Svalbard and the Norwegian coast.
“This is because we think it’s completely wrong that you should be able to operate this toxic fuel in beautiful natural areas. We want to lead by example doing the investments, finding the new technology, but we also want to push for regulations to come into place that will prohibit operators from not using the green solutions.”
The Cost Of Going Green
Hurtigruten is not a bargain-basement cruise line. Its prices are higher than the prices for cruise companies like Royal Caribbean and Carnival. Is that a problem? Skjeldam doesn’t think so. “I’d say it’s definitely making the guest experience better because it’s less polluting and quieter but also it makes people feel better. When they’re in these marine areas, you just don’t want to be on board an operator who doesn’t take this seriously. It just makes you feel bad as a guest. So I’d say it’s absolutely positive on all sides.
“Our belief is in all areas of tourism — especially tourism that moves like cruise ships, airlines, or ferries — we just have to accept that it will need to be more expensive going forward and that’s the price we need to pay to be able to keep tourism for the future. Sustainable tourism is a fantastic contribution to communities. It creates jobs and it’s renewable forever if you take good care of an area. Bad tourism destroys places and in order to get good tourism, we need to pay more for these kind of products because operators like ourselves need to invest in the technology, need to invest in the green form of fuels.”
It is wonderfully refreshing to hear a business leader talk about being a good steward of the Earth because doing so is just good business. My wife and I are seriously considering a cruise along the coast of Norway on a Hurtigruten ship, if only we can convince Zachary to pay for it.
In Praise Of Norway
CleanTechnica readers are some of the brightest and most compassionate people on the planet. There are many of you I would welcome into my own home to share a cold sarsaparilla. One such fellow is Are Hansen, who lives in Norway and feeds me environmental news from his country. While writing this story, I reached out to Are and asked him if he had any information about Hurtigruten I could share with you.
Are told me, “Hurtigruten has a boat connection from Bergen all the way to the North Cape. It was established in 1893 to bring faster connections northwards. Roads were bad back then and there was no train connection that far north. There still isn’t. It used to be just transportation, but has through the years developed into a cruise ship route. Very scenic, very popular, pretty expensive.”
Well, that’s good information, but what came next was just delightful. Are sent a YouTube video of a TED Talk based on a Norwegian phenomenon called Slow TV. In short, the public broadcasting company makes documentaries that take hours or even days to complete. One of them involves a 5+ day Hurtigruten voyage. 5 million people live in Norway, 3.2 million of them watched that program, including the prime minister and the queen.
People lined the shoreline to wave flags and get seen on TV. Passengers on the ship watched the program instead of looking out the window. One fellow writer skied naked next to the ship just to get himself included in the broadcast. Are shared a video of that TED Talk and it is one of the most delightful 18 minutes I can remember. It restored my faith in humanity and it made me more determined to visit this amazing country. Who knew Norwegians were such fun loving, entertaining folks? Here’s the video:
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