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Passenger ferries are going electric

passangers boarding an electric ferry on a river in France
An all-electric, zero-emission ferry in Lorient, France. Photo: Jean-Sebastien Evrard/AFP/Getty Images

Ships are the latest mode of transportation to see electric upgrades as the maritime industry faces increased pressure to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with fossil-fuel propulsion.

The big picture: Passenger ferries are ideal for electric propulsion using current battery technology, which can reduce water and air pollution while providing a quiet, vibration-free trip. Short routes with frequent stops along populated shorelines offer ample opportunities to charge the battery packs.

Where it stands: Globally, there were 185 battery-powered vessels operating or scheduled for delivery in 2018, 58 of which were passenger ferries.

Background: Norway introduced the first all-electric ferry, named the MF Ampere, in 2015, to shuttle passengers between villages in the fjords.

What's new: The Maid of the Mist Corporation has announced that it will launch 2 all-electric, zero-emission boats in September on the U.S. side of Niagara Falls — the first domestically built all-electric boats used for tourists in the U.S.

What to watch: With battery costs declining, expect more new and converted all-electric passenger ferries to operate across the U.S.

  • Washington State Ferries will introduce a 150-passenger hybrid ferry in Puget Sound later this year that runs on both diesel and battery power, using up to 60% less fuel than diesel counterparts. 
  • Also this year, New York City plans to introduce a 150-person ferry to shuttle commuters across the East River, from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

Maggie Teliska is a technical specialist at Caldwell Intellectual Property Law and CTO of Regent Power. She is also a member of GLG, a platform connecting businesses with industry experts.