Fullers is poised to gazump the Government's electric ferry push. The Auckland ferry operator plans to get a privately funded hybrid ferry on the water next year, before two Crown-funded, fully electric models are completed in 2024.
Energy Minister Megan Woods today confirmed $27 million in Government funding for two electric ferries for Auckland - which will be built by McMullen & Wing spin-off EV Maritime and Hobsonville Point's Yachting Developments, owned by Auckland Transport, and possibly operated by AT rather than Fullers.
The funding, which will cover 75 per cent of the cost of the new ferries, will come from Covid-19 relief funds (the project was originally pitched to the Government when it asked for "shovel-ready" projects near the start of the pandemic).
AT is chipping in a similar sum for electrification of wharves (there is already a tender out for a fast-charging system able to top-up an EV ferry's battery in five minutes).
But it's not just diesel that's getting the hiff. Woods also confirmed today that AT would own the two EV ferries and four others expected to be confirmed shortly. The operating contract was still up in the air, Woods said. 'It could be Fullers, it could be AT. Neither is a given."
Today, Fullers owns and operates most of Auckland's ferries.
But Fullers is not taking the changes lying down. The firm's chief executive Mike Horne told the Herald in December his company was building its own, privately funded hybrid ferry - which will be electric with a back-up diesel system.
Woods said she did not see Fuller's self-funded hybrid ferry, and its plan to use it on the highest-yielding routes, as a threat. "The more the merrier," she said. A mix of ownership models would be required as the city's ferry fleet was electrified.
She also noted that Fullers was exploring a possible partnership with firm developing hydrogen ferries for the city of San Francisco in the US.
Horne saw Fullers' hybrid ferries being used on the two busiest runs: to Devonport, which is subsidised by AT, and Waiheke, which isn't subsidised, giving Fullers a freer hand with fares, which has sparked yelps from locals.
The two Government-funded ferries announced by Woods will be built by EV Maritime (a spinout from well-established East Tamaki boat builder McMullen & Wing) and Yachting Developments in Hobsonville Pt. They're due to be on the water by 2024.
Horne says Fuller's privately funded hybrid will be made by Whanganui's Q-West, with a propulsion system from Christchurch's HamiltonJet. Delivery is expected by next year.
"The electric-hybrid ferry project is on track, and we estimate the vessel will be in the water by the end of 2023," the CEO told the Herald this morning.
Deadlines are not always met with cutting-edge projects, of course, but as things stand Fullers has the initiative in a situation that's fluid, and nuanced.
Fullers has also hedged its bets by chipping in $500,000 toward the EV Maritime project's R&D costs. Fullers will benefit equally from AT's rapid chargers, and Horne emphasised today that the two companies had also collaborated on the proposal.
"The investment in two electric ferries is a further crucial step in decarbonising Auckland's ferry network. Our shovel-ready submission with EV Maritime and Vector was the catalyst for this funding and something that we are proud of. We are thrilled to see this collective vision come to fruition providing Tāmaki Makaurau with low carbon transport options," Horne said.
Auckland ferry users have suffered through a number of breakdowns on boats in Fullers' ageing fleet.
But in Horne's defence, current ferry operation contracts are now in overtime on top of overtime, with no one willing to commit to major capital spending until all elements of the transition to electrification are made clear. The announcement being made today was expected in 2020 before Covid forced a series of delays.
Horne says Fullers' hybrid, at around $20m, would be more than twice the cost of an equivalent capacity diesel. It would also be a lot cheaper to "fuel" and be more reliable - so made more financial sense for his company overall.
EV Maritime and Fullers have already released designs for their next-generation, quick and quiet boats.
Fullers' hybrid will carry up to 300 passengers, with a top speed of 28 knots, and feature extra space for bikes and e-scooters. The charging time from cold will be 25 minutes, but Horne anticipates the battery will be topped up by five-minute rapid charges as customers depart and board, while the diesel generator will be on hand for power cuts. The firm spent $1m on R&D before construction, due to begin this month.
EV Maritime's fully electric boat
The two EV Maritime ferries unveiled today were essentially the same as a design shown by CEO Michael Eaglen in July last year, but with the addition of open-top seating.
That design allowed for up to 200 passengers, with special areas for bikes and scooters. Its top speed of 25 knots (roughly the same as today's diesels) and a range of 40km.
Eaglen said a key element of EV Maritime's approach is a standard ferry design, capable of either the calm inner-harbour sailing to Hobsonville Pt or an open-sea jaunt to Gulf Harbour. He also saw EVs lending themselves to more frequent sailings during the day, so people used ferries for getting around as well as a commute to the office.
Auckland will be the second NZ city to get electric ferries. In November, a 135-passenger EV launched in Wellington.
Construction began in 2018 by the Wellington Electric Boat Building Company, a subsidiary of operator East by West Ferries, with the first service due in mid-2020 before Covid delays.
This story has been updated to reflect a correction from Energy Ministery Megan Woods' office. Woods' original statement said AT would both own and operate the EV ferries built by EV Maritime. Her office later updated that AT would own the ferries, but that the operation contract was yet to be decided.