The Tesla of the sea
Ampere, the world’s first electric ferry, is now in service across Norway’s Sognefjord
M. Michael Brady
On January 25, the world’s first battery-powered, all-electric motor vehicle ferry entered service between Oppedal on the south bank and Lavik on the north bank of the Sognefjord. The three and a half mile crossing is an essential link on the E39 highway through the fjord-indented country of western Norway, between Kristiansand and Trondheim. Christened the Ampere last October, the electric ferry is one of three serving the crossing; the other two, the Oppedal and the Stavanger, are conventional diesel-powered.
The Ampere is a 265-foot-long catamaran with a hull of aluminum that weighs half as much as the steel hull of a conventional ferry of the same size. Like most ferries across the fjords in Norway, Ampere is “double-ended” with interchangeable bow and stern, which allows it to shuttle back and forth between the terminals at Lavik and Oppedal without having to turn around. Its building was an international undertaking. The raw hull was built in Gdansk, Poland. It is propelled by Rolls-Royce thrusters driven by 450 kW Siemens motors. Siemens also supplied its 10 tons of lithium batteries and other electrical gear. The final fitting and finishing was done at the Fjellstrand shipyard at Omastrand on the Hardangerfjord. In operation, Ampere can carry up to 120 cars and 360 passengers.
At the 2014 Shipbuilding, Machinery, and Marine Technology (SMM) trade fair held in Hamburg, Germany, Ampere was named Ship of the Year, an annual distinction awarded by Skipsrevyen (Shipping Review), the leading maritime trade journal for the Nordic countries: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland. The Ampere has been called “the Tesla of the seas,” an allusion to the success of the electric cars made by Tesla Motors of California.
Like the Tesla designs, the Ampere design has incorporated innovative solutions. For example, the electricity grids at its two terminals are of rural standard and consequently lack the capacity for quick charging the ferry’s batteries. So Ampere starts each sailing day with its batteries fully charged, and during the day boost charges during brief ten-minute stops at the two ferry terminals. In turn, the terminals have batteries that can cope with the brief recharging loads, and themselves be recharged when the ferry is away from a terminal. It’s a bit of smart technology that makes electric ferries viable even for small terminals.
The design of the Ampere is a sign of an ongoing shift toward electric and hybrid ship designs in Norway. In turn, that trend triggered the foundation of the world’s first Maritime Battery Forum (further reading), now with nearly 40 members including vessel owners, shipyards, research institutes, and the DNV GL classification society.
These developments may well be foresighted. As of January 1 this year, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) tightened the sulfur restriction in Emission Control Areas (ECAs). The new standard may oblige ferry owners to switch to lower-sulfur fuels or implement onboard exhaust scrubbers. The costs and effects of such measures are not yet known. But they may prompt ferry owners to consider electric or hybrid propulsion.
• Norled (owner and operator of Ampere ferry), link: www.norled.no/en/ (in English)
• Shipbuilder Fjellstrand, link: www.fjellstrand.no (in Norwegian and English)
• Electric and hybrid vessels: Maritime Battery Forum, link: maritimebatteryforum.com/ (in English)
This article originally appeared in the June 19, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.