Grape field may be applicable for electric ferries

Grape field may be applicable for electric ferries

The Steamship Authority’s board of directors learned Thursday afternoon that electric ferries are likely to be applicable on Vineyard Road. Team from Elliot Bay Design, a Seattle company that Designed by Woods Hole, facts and figures from a propulsion feasibility study that showed that unlike Nantucket/Hyannis Road, Vineyard Haven/Woods Hole Road was suitable for an all-electric ferry. The Elliott Bay Woods Hole team used a model ferry to study. The team mitigated the possibility of electric ferry service with a few caveats, including the multi-million dollar cost of batteries and onshore electrical infrastructure and the potential fire threat posed by batteries.

The electric ferry was among a number of different propulsion methods evaluated for the study, including a hybrid option that appears to not cut emissions to any significant degree.

With an all-electric ferry, Elliot Bay’s Lydia Benger said charging will presumably be available at Woods Hole and Vineyard Haven.

Andy Bennett of KPFF Consulting Engineers, a company that helped Elliott Bay Design with the study, said other payment options provided some mitigation for greenhouse gas emissions, but that all-electricity only eliminated those emissions completely.

In the case of electric ferries being used on Vineyard Road, Bennett said it was a “relatively short period” that ships would need to draw charging power from the grid when at a station, and that power doesn’t necessarily have to come directly from the grid if onshore batteries are installed. Bennett likened the batteries to a tank that could be quickly withdrawn from ships but could be refilled at a slower pace due to the fact that ferries were not always docked and charged.

The “important” question, Bennett said, is whether local utilities can deliver power to the stations.

Bennett said a type of hinged arm could serve to connect ferries to power charging. He said gears, transformers and other electrical components would be necessary and “strongly recommended” burying the conductor cable.

Bennett said the batteries would be the size of one or two shipping containers.

“It’s not just a battery,” he said. “It’s a battery/energy storage system. So it has controls inside. It has monitoring devices. It has built-in fire protection for lithium-ion batteries. They have a reputation for catching fire, which is well known and better understood so that it can be managed.”

Bennett showed where the battery facility, which he likened to an electrical substation, could be located in Vineyard Haven. At Woods Hole, he said, the new cable that has already been planned could give the port a step forward in creating the electrical infrastructure. He specified that a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution feed line was expected to be installed that could also be used to meet the ferry’s electrical power needs.

“The good news is that if these sites don’t work and you have to move them away, at 12.47 kV you won’t have significant transmission line losses,” he said. “So they don’t have to be adjacent to buildings. They can be farther away.”

The batteries needed aren’t cheap, Bennett said.

“The bad news is that they are expensive,” Bennett said, describing it as costing “millions of dollars.” Having a battery energy storage system and the inverters accompanying it is really expensive.”

Without the batteries on site, he said, the SSA would need more power coming into the station.

And what the utilities hate, he said, is this huge demand for a few megawatts of power that comes online when the ferry arrives, and as soon as the ferry leaves…that cycle of very large energy uses the utilities really hate it and it’s going to cost you a lot for that. So the battery It buffers that and allows for a more stable flow.”

Bennett said there is federal funding available to help with such an installation. “We know a lot of operators are looking for ways to pay for it because it is important that we address the issue of greenhouse gas emissions. Ferry operations across the board, around the world – everyone is working on this.”

SSA Vineyard representative Jim Malkin questioned the effects of shore power on port communities in Washington and in the “Nordic Countries”.

“Washington state phrases, you hear a lot about that,” Bennett said. “We haven’t built anything yet. We’re still 100 percent of the diesel operations in Seattle and we have the same questions. In the Nordic countries where this is, most of the operations tend to be a little more or smaller vessels or in a developed port. It’s not like a lot of facilities which you have where the station; in the middle of the city.”

Bennett went on to say that these operations have incurred some “hiccups.” Early on, Bennett said there were power outages, and power surges. And that was less than half of the request we’re talking about. They learned from it. They were able to eliminate those issues. Through thick and thin, in fact, the Norwegians have done a lot of this. They are way ahead of us. They are the ones who learn the hard lessons and we will be able to benefit from that.”

Norway doesn’t use battery systems much, Bennett said, it has “a ton” of hydropower and it has “a very different structure for how its government works and how its utilities work, so it’s easier for them to get everyone on the same page and power the device and get it all done.”

John Waterhouse of Elliot Bay Design said a contract had just been awarded for a route from Oslo to Hamburg with the stipulation that “last five to 10 nautical miles of the voyage, the vessel will do everything on battery power so that the port community is not affected by exhaust or the noise of the incoming vessel. Between Oslo and Hamburg it is a very long distance to do all of that with batteries or electricity.” He also said that electricity can do more than just reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it can reduce port noise pollution and noise that could disturb marine life. He said some ferries in the area have an “orca mode” button to engage in silent runs when you’re near killer whales.

In response to another question from Malkin, Bennett said Washington State ferries may not have any alternative propulsion systems yet, but hybrid ferries are under construction and planning for shore shipping is underway.

“That’s great because this is new news for me,” Malkin said. “Because a lot of pro-electric fan letters are referring to Washington State as something we should be chasing and some people here are under the impression that they are actually electric.”

Bennett said, “This rumor didn’t just reach the Woods Hoy community. We’ve heard the same thing from people in Maine.”

Asked if battery fires could be fought with water, Bennett said, “Probably not.”

He added, “One of the things that we face [that] We’ll have to talk going forward, is coordinating with the local fire chief/fire department to make sure they’re comfortable with access, precautions, associated alarms because it’s still a risk that has to be mitigated. Such ships – a fire at sea can completely ruin your day. Ship batteries are built to various standards. So close coordination is needed. Training will be required for your local fire department to ensure that they can respond if they are not self-extinguished. This is a valid concern. It’s something everyone realizes…”

Nantucket board member Robert Raney asked if the ferries would need a special fire suppression system “in addition to what’s already there?” If so, he said it would cost more money and take up more space.

Benger said suppression of battery fires is directed by the registrar and classification society DNV, which has done some “important testing on battery fires and the best way to suppress them.”

Binger said DNV recommended “water mist fire suppression” because it cools, extinguishes and cuts off oxygen.

“So we were using that as a primary means of putting out battery fires,” she said.

In response to a question from Rani about what the backup power would look like, Binger said electric ferry models will still require a conventional generator as a backup.

“You have to have two means of power,” said Binger. “In most of our designs to date, where all electricity is the desire, we have two separate battery rooms for this iteration, then depending on the customer’s comfort level, from one generator to two. In some cases three.

Overall, the main benefit to an all-electric ferry for SSA appears to be the elimination of carbon emissions generated by the diesel engines currently in use. Aside from infrastructure costs associated with port development and costs associated with retrofitting a ferry that is not intended for electric use, operating costs for electric ferries in the study were found to be the highest among all payment methods studied – only $18 million per year for a ferry-type Woods Hole. In turn, a diesel version of the same ferry with new “Tier 4” engines will cost just over $12 million a year.

The board took the study of payment under supervision.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.