Volvo Penta considers the path ahead to electrify ferries around the world

Volvo Penta has an impressive global portfolio of contributing power solutions to diesel, hybrid, and electric ferries. We hear from Jan Willem, Director of Marine Commercial Global at Volvo Penta about the current ferry market, the challenges and rewards of going electric, as well as taking a look at Volvo Penta’s success stories so far.

“Electrification in the marine segment is exciting,” explains Volvo Penta’s Director of Marine Commercial Global, Jan Willem. “We are at a point where today’s innovations are creating bridges to the future. The speed and size of this transformation in the marine transportation market are encouraging. Our job is to create safe, reliable, and future-proof solutions for a wide array of customers.

It’s relatively easy to build a fully electric boat but the challenge is how to charge it. As a company, we can and have supported all types of vessels, but the real sweet spot is passenger ferries. This is because they tend to follow the same set routes which make calibration and charging more straightforward. The charging infrastructure is not quite there yet globally but we are working closely with our marine transport customers to implement solutions that work with the current charging infrastructure.”

Power of plenty
Currently, Volvo Penta is seeing global interest in electrification in the people transportation segment – the majority are slow crossing ferries that are fully electric with backup power – diesel-electric. The company already provides power with marine gensets complying with the latest emission legislations. But the vessels in this segment come in many shapes and sizes and have different requirements. The challenge is creating solutions that can be easily tailored to meet the customer’s needs. Very few suppliers can do this affordably and easily, but Volvo Penta has a good approach – the power of plenty – which refers to the use of numerous small power supplies instead of one large supply.

“The thinking behind the power of plenty is simple,” says Jan-Willem. “It’s easier to replace smaller power supplies such as a 200 kW genset in the future with a fuel cell or battery pack than a single 1,000 kW genset.”

Vessels charging into the future
Volvo Penta already has a rich portfolio of successful hybrid ferry deliveries operating around the world. Here are just two of its customer success stories:

1) Oslo, Norway
Turkish boatbuilder Sefine Shipyard has won a prestigious order to supply Norwegian operator Boreal with five electric ferries – each supported by two Volvo Penta D13 MG IMO III generator sets (gensets). The ferries are part of Norway’s stated intention to electrify all passenger transport on Norwegian waters. They will operate to-and-from the islands in the inner Oslo fjord and run scheduled services throughout the day. Volvo Penta supplied its first three IMO III gensets in late 2020, with the last two gensets delivered in June of this year. The ferries will recharge at dockside where possible, with the batteries gaining additional electric propulsion provided by the Volvo Penta gensets as required. Each generator set will supply 265 kWe electrical power this will ensure schedules and passenger safety are never disturbed. 

2) Kiel, Germany
Like many European cities, the Kiel authorities have adopted a green way of thinking and investing in their inland waterways (IWW). So it was no surprise that when it came to upgrading the city’s 55-year-old fleet of 18 canal ferries they wanted to go full electric. However, they opted to have the electric system backed up by the latest emission-controlled gensets for complete Diesel Electric operation in case they were not able to charge overnight. With Volvo Penta being the first company on the market to offer IWW stage V certified engines, the D8-MH genset Stage V was the obvious choice. The operator WSA Nord-Ostsee-Kanal also has a longstanding history of working with Volvo Penta and trusts the products and service network. The gensets will be combined with Siemens E-System, with a capacity of 2 x 237 kW– a straightforward installation for Estonia boatbuilding Baltic Work Boats. The first of this new fleet will be in operation in the next couple of weeks and measures 30m in length with a beam of 9.6m.

The future is bright
Today, Volvo Penta is learning and collaborating with electromobility and technology suppliers to integrate its gensets into a total propulsion solution. Most recently the company showcased the success of its collaborative approach when delivering MHO-Co’s two new crew transfer vessels (CTVs) – MHO Asgard and MHO Apollo –from China to Denmark. The 12,000 nautical mile journey was a voyage of discovery for Volvo Penta and Danfoss Editron, with the many lessons learned helping to create a tailor-made solution fit for the owner’s requirements. And when it comes to developing technology the company recently took another step forward to extend its package to fully electric drivelines, battery packs, and more with the acquisition of ZEM AS, a company that Volvo Penta has had a majority share of since June 2021. Additionally, Volvo Penta and Qamcom formed a new start-up, Cetasol, to develop and offer the marine digital platform, iHelm, dedicated to helping commercial marine vessels minimise emissions and maximise efficiency.

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