Ferry revolution now well underway

More than 50 electric ferries will be in service on the fjords around Norway by the end of 2020, reported the state highway department this week. Environmental organization Bellona called it a “fantastic revolution” in a country that relies on ferries as a critical mode of transport.

Electric ferries, like this one from the Multi-Maritime ship design and engineering firm in Førde, are part of the “revolution” that’s slashing ferry emissions around Norway. PHOTO: Multi Maritime/Fjord1

The world’s first battery-driven ferry started sailing in Norway, on the Lavik-Oppedal route in the county of Sogn og Fjordane, as early as February 2015. “We started the ball rolling,” claimed Arild Økland of the ferry line Nordled to newspaper Dagsavisen. “It’s been a success and cleared the way for what’s happening now.”

Økland was referring to a string of new contracts announced recently that involve construction of new electric ferries and conversion of diesel-fueled ferries to the new battery technology.

State highway department Statens vegvesen, which has ferry routes as part of its transport portfolio, has compiled a new overview of all the contracts and new ferries already emerging from local shipyards. It counts more than 50 car ferries equipped with battery packs that will be in operation within the next two years.

Political demands and financial incentives
All the ferries in the new service contract for the County of Hordaland in Western Norway will be battery-driven. The counties of Sogn of Fjordane, Møre og Romsdal, Sør-Trøndelag and Nordland have also entered into such contracts, with ferry firm Fjord1 a central player and locomotive in the switch to electrified vessels.

“As of today, we have 63 ferries,” André Høyset, operations director for Fjord1, told Dagsavisen. “Between 2018 and 2020 we will put 19 new electric ferries into service. In addition we will convert four of our existing ferries to battery operation.”

Høyset seemed as proud as Økland of Norled in claiming that “our branch has probably come the longest in the so-called ‘green shift.'”  He admitted, though, that the transition to battery-powered ferries probably would have taken longer if the counties that contract for the ferry transport service hadn’t demanded electrification. The state has also provided financial support programs that have helped put the new technology into practical application.

‘Great victory’ for climate and environmental movement
The Parliament in 2014 asked the Conservatives-led government coalition to make sure that all new ferry contracts included demands for zero- or at the very least low-emission technology. That was followed up with NOK 65 million in the state budget to help fund the new ferries. “The money can go to developments within the maritime industry but also to local counties and communities,” Environment Minister Vidar Helgesen told news bureau NTB.

Both the politicians and the state transport directorate deserve praise for the rapid conversion to electric ferries, claims Jan Kjetil Paulsen of Bellona. “The introduction of battery solutions and low-emission technology in the ferry sector looks like a fairy tale come true for Norway,” Paulsen said. He said it also was “a great victory” for the climate and environmental movement.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund