Southern Hemisphere’s first electric commuter ferry

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When it comes to the electrification of transport, land is one thing, but air and sea are quite another. Electric aviation might not pick up speed until the latter half of this century, but perhaps an electric life at sea isn’t so far away. 

Of course, when an opportunity arises to beat Australia to a ‘first in the Southern Hemisphere’ title, the Kiwis dive straight in. In this case, they’re diving straight into Wellington Harbour, as New Zealand’s capital awaits the arrival of the hemisphere’s first fully electric, zero-emission passenger ferry. 

The $4 million, 19 metre electric ferry, large enough to carry 135 commuters back and forth across Wellington Harbour, is set for launch mid-2020. 

East by West Ferries Managing Director Jeremy Ward said the new vessel “will be powered by twin electric engines which will enable a 20-knot operational speed and three return back to back peak-hour trips on one charge before a second one hour charge is required.” 

The ferry, designed and constructed by the imaginatively named Wellington Electric Boat Building Company (East by West is a majority stakeholder and first customer), required an innovative hull designed compared to conventional diesel-powered vessels. The enabling factor, full carbon/foam construction. These materials, combined with the canoe-stern hull form, reduces the resistance from the displacement caused by the weight of batteries. 

Ward told Stuff NZ that he approached Wellington Electric managing director Fraser Foote about the idea to build an emission-free ferry once he realised no other companies in the Antipodes were making the first move. “I said ‘bugger it we’ll do it ourselves.’…Fossil fuels aren’t going to last forever.” 

Foote and Ward both claim the impending launch of the ferry has attracted numerous expressions of interests for subsequent orders. The hope is that this is the start of an electric boating industry. 

Ward commented that the journey across the harbour on the electric ferry will be so soundless that passengers might have to be awakened on arrival. One feels for those commuters who will be torn from their pleasant dreams to find themselves still in Wellington (only teasing).