Sustainable Ferries?

Instead of the taking the long route I had planned through Tacoma and Olympia to get to Port Townsend, I decided to take the Seattle-Bremerton Ferry. We had an impromptu lunch with Engie Services, U.S. whose CEO had reached out to us early in the trip. Engie was conducting a sustainability tour with staff and customers called the #C2CSustainabilityTour and discovered that they would be in Seattle at the same time we were in Seattle. The event wrapped up at 1:15p, so we got on the 1:30p ferry for the hour-long trip to Bremerton.

Norled Electric FerryLiving in the desert, one generally doesn’t think about ferries, but once on the ferry, my sustainability lens popped up and I wondered if an electric ferry would make better sense and to my surprise, I discovered that the first all-electric car ferry was put into service in Norway in May of 2015. The “Ampere” had indeed been a wild success, cutting emission by 95 percent and costs by a whopping 80 percent, resulting in 53 more orders for the shipbuilder Fjellstrand. Who knew?

Upon further research, I discovered that Washington State Ferries is planning to convert its three largest vessels from running on diesel fuel to electric power. Two of the four diesel engines on each craft would be replaced with batteries, thus turning the Jumbo Mark II Fleet into hybrids—running on electricity with diesel backup generators to charge the batteries, based on the success of the Ampere. Converting the fleet would cost $30 million each over 6 years (1 ferry converted every two years) and would pay for itself and then some over the life of each craft.

Port Liner Electric BargeOther states are also considering zero-emission ferries—a rural Alabama ferry company is replacing diesel engines with electric and in January, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) announced a $3 million grant to help build the first hydrogen fuel cell ferry in the world for San Francisco—and two electric barges by Dutch company Port-Liner, the first of six (each able to carry 280 shipping containers and remove 23,000 trucks from the road) will begin service in the Netherlands this fall. The maritime electric conversion is already underway.

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Port Townsend WA Leg