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Are Battery-Electric Vessels a Cost-Effective Maritime Solution?

Updated: Oct 3, 2020

In a nutshell, absolutely.

Apart from the fact that battery-powered engines are a much greener solution than their internal combustion counterparts, it turns out that ​running costs of electric vessels are significantly more financially viable​. But let us talk about perspective for a moment.

We know that, initially, due to the use of more sophisticated technology and consequently higher production costs, battery-powered vessels are a more costly investment. However, if we introduce lifetime running costs to the equation, such as maintenance (including necessary battery replacement after 18 years – a calculation based on the operation profile of the investigated vessel and the life cycle of the chosen battery system) and fuel consumption, things start taking a massive turn.

Here is an instructive case study. A medium-sized river ferry operating on the river Main covers a daily route of 116 m multiple times at the speed of 2.7 kn. Diesel costs alone, for this type of vessel, are around 36.667 €/year. ​Replacing its diesel motor with an electric one would cut the fuel costs alone by more than 50% per year​, leading to a 4 year ROI (return of investment).

If fuel costs were the only parameter by which we could compare these two types of vessels, battery-powered ones would turn out to be much more feasible in the long run. However, the story does not end there. ​Electric motors, generally, are much easier to live with, in terms of maintenance and servicing costs as well​. Fewer moving part means less chance of something going wrong or needing regular replacement. Also, diesel motor vessels need a Particular Matter filter and Catalyst installed (for a 25 m ferry, we are talking between 50.000 and 60.000€ for installation), and, in some areas, they need to get regular exhaust treatment (between 1.500 and 2.000€/year for filters).

Finally, let us sum up the expenses.

An average lifetime of an electric vessel is around 30 years. In Germany, it is possible to get a loan with financing rates as low as 1% and create a comfortable financing situation for retrofitting an electric motor into your vessel. In summary, maintenance costs for diesel ships turn out to be 20 €/kW/year (Source: Manouchehrinia, B; Andersen, K.; Dong, Z; Hybrid and Pure Electric Propulsion Systems for A Short-Crossing Ferry), whereas they are only 13,25 €/kW/year(Source: Manouchehrinia, B; Andersen, K.; Dong, Z; Hybrid and Pure Electric Propulsion Systems for A Short-Crossing Ferry) for electric ones. This means, that over the course of those 30 years, ​you would be saving 6,75 €/kW/year​!

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