Washington state makes waves with electric ferries

Reading time: 4 minutes
19 November 2018

The waters around Under2 Coalition member Washington state are set to see an influx of electric leviathans – ferries – starting this year.

The movement starts with a trio. Off the coast of Puget Sound, three huge ferries which make up the state’s Jumbo Mark II fleet – the Tacoma, the Puyallup and the Wenatchee – have committed to making the switch from diesel to electric. Of the 12 diesel engines that power this fleet, half will be replaced with batteries. The electric engines will be used to power the ferries, with the capability to switch back to diesel both for backup and for recharging the batteries.

On paper, three ferries might sound like a humble start. Yet Washington State Ferries is the largest ferry system in the United States and these three jumbo vessels use a quarter of the entire fleet’s diesel. This transition is a momentous one as it marks the beginning of the end for the internal combustion engine. Offshore as well as on-land, increasingly different sectors of transportation are making the switch to renewable energy and electrification in the face of a huge climate challenge.

Ferries could be considered an off-piste choice for electrification; they are not the first vehicle consumers assume to be on the front lines of emissions reductions. But Washington State Governor Jay Inslee said:

“Washington State Ferries is the largest consumer of diesel fuel in the state, and it’s the largest generator of greenhouse gas emissions in state transportation. Converting these ferries from diesel to battery electric will significantly reduce diesel and carbon emissions, improve reliability, virtually eliminate engine noise and vibration that can hurt orca whales, and save up to $14 million a year on ferry operating costs.”

Moreover, this is an initiative which relies heavily on international collaboration between states and regions. The realization of the electric ferry concept in Washington state took inspiration from the bold actions of Scandinavian corporates and governments.

In Norway, the Havyard shipyard announced that it has been contracted to build seven entirely battery-powered ferries after operators of the first all-electric ferry, the ‘Ampere’, reported that electrification cuts emissions by 95% and costs by 80%.

“We’re going to learn from their experiences and bring that technology to Washington state,” Inslee said.

The electrification of ferries is a movement that has made waves across the United States.

Earlier this year at the Global Climate Action Summit, Governor Jerry Brown announced that in the State of California (a co-founder of the Under2 Coalition), a spend of $592 million had been approved to build infrastructure to support big electric vehicles, especially around ports.

The sharing of expertise, experience and technology across governments and corporates is crucial to driving real climate action on an ambitious scale. The subnational leaders of the Under2 Coalition from California, Washington and around the world are scaling up efforts drastically by collaborating to implement programs that translate to real change. The Under2 ZEV Project is an example of one of these international peer learning efforts and electric ferries are just part of the movement which will help us sail into a cleaner, greener future.

Facebook icon
Twitter icon
LinkedIn icon
e-mail icon
Google icon