Electrification, a piece of the puzzle for fossil-free shipping - new Lighthouse study

Sweden has the ambition to have a fossil free vehicle fleet by 2030, and on January 1, 2018, a new long term climate goal was set - to have no net exhaust emissions of greenhouse gases by 2045. An increased use of electrification is a possibility to reduce the emissions from the transport sector, including sea transportation. In a new pre study from Lighthouse, needs and possibilities of electrification within shipping is analysed. 

- During our seminars last year, it became apparent that we need to join our forces when it comes to maritime electrification and this preliminary study is a result of that. Electrification is an important piece of the puzzle to reach fossil-free transports, says Åsa Burman, Lighthouse Director.

The preliminary study has been conducted within Lighthouse as a collaborative project with participants from SSPA, RISE and Chalmers.

- Electricity engages many stakeholders and given the potential of electrification, this preliminary study shows, and the MoU recently signed by the Swedish Shipowners´ Association, ABB Sweden AB, ABB Marine Oy, Stena AB, the research institute RISE and the battery company Northvolt, there are good opportunities to take large and rapid steps for the development of electrification, says Harry Robertsson, chairman of Lighthouse and technical director at Stena.

The aim with the pre-study is to give an overview of the technical development within electrification of sea transportation, and also to analyse parameters that influence the performance and costs of maritime electrification.  The study also looked into the perspective of industry actors regarding their drivers for maritime electrification as well as existing challenges. Based on those insights, project ideas have been formulated. This report is a synthesis of previous projects and interviews with actors within the shipping industry and closely related areas.

The pace of development within the area of maritime electrification is high, and new, innovative projects are continually being started. There are different levels of electrification solutions for ships – diesel electric, battery hybrid and fully electric. The batteries most commonly used by vessels are lithium ion. Today, the level of electrification varies by vessel segment. Generally, electrification is more common within the vessel segments where there are large variations in engine power during operation. There are many examples of electrification within the passenger vessel segment, especially in Norway. There are also a few examples in Sweden. These passenger vessels operate on a defined route over shorter distances. In Sweden, there are examples of fully electric cable road ferries operating over very short distances. Other vessel segments adopting electrification are offshore industry vessels and special vessels such as tugs. In these segments, battery hybrid solutions result in higher efficiency for operations such as dynamic positioning. There are a number of ongoing projects, for example RoPax ferries, inland waterways vessels, and container vessels, that are broadening the scope of application of maritime electrification.

A number of different actors are involved in maritime electrification - users (ports, shipping companies), suppliers (energy storage, vessel design, shipyards, shore power, system and components), regulatory authorities, class societies, and research organisations (institutes and universities).  There are incentives for electrification of vessels that are related to climate and environment, economy, market and safety. Existing Swedish electrification initiatives are within the short-range ferry traffic segment, as well as a RoPax project (Gothenburg-Frederikshavn). Mostly lithium-ion batteries are used and the systems onboard the ships are designed for each unique case. The same applies for the charging method, where several technical solutions are applied. A number of large challenges have been identified based on interviews with different actors. Today, there is a big economic risk with electrification projects, and funding from governmental players often is necessary. Technical challenges identified include ensuring enough battery power and charging speed can be obtained, and implementation of a reliable charging method. The safety of battery usage was also identified as a challenge, where there is limited practical experience on how different safety systems perform in hazardous situations. A well-functioning charging infrastructure is necessary and there is a need for clarifying the requirements for such infrastructure, based on different applications of maritime electrification.

This study has identified several broad areas where further research could contribute to increasing the knowledge about, and the use of, maritime electrification. A number of concrete research projects are suggested within the area of maritime electrification – “Actor constellation for business models”, “Simulation environment for electrified sea transportation”, “Charging infrastructure and standardisation”, “Experiences of electrification from practice”, “Electrification as part of the transport system”, and “LETS – Laboratory for Electrified Transports Sweden”.