Dreaming of electric ferries as you sit for your noisy, diesel-powered cross-harbour commute, praying it won't break down again?
Startups Seachange and EV Maritime are now both promising boats in commercial operation within a couple of years.
Elements like serious funding, working prototypes, and partnerships with government agencies and ferry operators are starting to come together.
EV Maritime - a spinout from well-established East Tamaki boat builder McMullen & Wing - has heavy-duty central and local government support lined up for its passenger ferries. Chief executive and co-founder Michael Eaglen sees its fully designed 200-passenger electric ferry as a quieter, more reliable way to traverse inner harbour routes such as the CBD to Devonport or Hobsonville Point, or up to Gulf Harbour on the open ocean. His company's design features scads of space for bikes (something that's emerged as a sore point with traditional designs) plus wide gangways to allow them onboard.
Eaglen - whose company is in line for $50m in direct and indirect funding from AT and Government sources - says the 200-person model would be practical for multiple Auckland routes, including the CBD run to master-planned Hobsonville Point, which he says has the fastest-growing patronage as development expands (more on EV Maritime's progress below).
Seachange (formerly Freightfish) is targeting the open-sea car-ferry and container ship markets - starting with the former. The startup broke cover this week, releasing footage of a scaled-down working prototype. CEO and cofounder Max Olson (formerly chief technology officer at the Peter Beck-backed smart cow startup Halter) says the company is still at a seed funding stage, but that a Series A raise is in the works.
Already, his startup has bragging rights to a number of marquee investors, including Icehouse Ventures (which has taken a 26 per cent stake, Australasia's largest VC fund, Blackbird Ventures (12 per cent) and Sir Stephen Tindall's K1W1 (6 per cent). Ports of Auckland also holds a small stake.
The seed funding so far has been enough to hire a team of 10 and get that scale prototype in the water to demonstrate his company's use of hydrofoiling technology around Marsden Point, where it has its R&D headquarters (see clip above).
Olson styles his startup as model of the way the America's Cup can produce new technology for wider commercial applications. His team of engineers includes alumni from Team NZ, Oracle Racing and SailGP.
"We'll start cutting our first production vessel this year and be on the water by Autumn 2023 he says."
He says his company will initially produce two electric ferries with a 50km to 100km range. The founder hits that a Cook Strait service is possible.
And if that eventuates, he says it will be owned and operated by Seachange and compete with the Interislander.
"We're fiercely independent," Olson says.
While electric ferry pilots have been running for a couple of years - notably in northern Europe - Olson says his company's hydrofoil technology gives it an edge speed and power efficiency.
Where the Interislander takes around three and half hours to get form Wellington to Picton, Olson says Seachanges boats will do the same trip in under 90 minutes. They will also carry a smaller number of cars (the traditional ferries carry up to 600), meaning faster boarding, but you'll also pay a premium for the quicker crossing. Olson anticipates a 30 to 50 per cent premium. "It'll be like the difference between economy and premium economy", he says.
Serious money on the table
Back over at EV Maritime, Eaglen says his company has been working closely with the Government, Auckland Transport, Fullers and Vector on the first two electric fast ferries for Auckland's public transport network.
"We expect to start building the boats this year and deliver them into service in 2023," he says.
"We are also currently looking at commuter ferry electrification in Sydney and Hong Kong."
Eaglen is comfortable EV Maritime's first two EV ferries will be fully funded for the build to begin this year.
The group led by his company applied for $20m from the Government's $3 billion stimulus fund for "shovel-ready" projects.
The Herald understands that potential Crown funding is still on the table. Fullers - which would become the operator for the first two ferries - has chipped in $300,000 in loans and R&D assistance to help maintain momentum in the meantime. Crown agency Callaghan innovation has also helped with R&D.
Eaglen says the project is very much in active mode, including weekly meetings between EV Maritime, Fullers and Auckland Transport.
Under its new 10-year Regional Land Transport Plan, released last month, AT earmarks $30m for "Decarbonisation of the Ferry Fleet Stage 1" between 2021 and 2024 (some $69m in anticipated ferry decarbonisation costs beyond those dates are as yet unfunded).
That plan does not detail how the $30m will be spent, but Eaglen anticipates it will include on-shore infrastructure such as fast-chargers.
EV Maritime has two electric ferry designs. The 200-passenger design that's in line for possible (or, whisper it, probable) Government funding is a 24m, carbon-hull design that incorporates foiling technology.
Eaglen says the top speed would be 25 knots (that is, on a par with today's diesel ferries) with a range of 40km. Top-up DC fast-charges at passenger wharves would take four minutes - allowing each vessel to remain near fully charged throughout the day.
The first two ferries would be made locally at McMullen & Wing in East Tamaki and Yachting Developments at Hobsonville Point. Future production could be partly in Europe, to be close to clients in the green-friendly EU.
If all goes to plan with Auckland Transport's decarbonisation push, then 20 diesel ferries will be replaced with electric models as they are phased out and more added for a possible fleet of 30 by the end of the 10-year plan (should it survive the various local and central government ballots between now and 2030).
Eaglen says the EV ferry push will create "hundreds" of local jobs and sees "major" export potential. As well as negotiations with public-private ferry operations in Australia and Hong Kong, EV Maritime is already in talks with parties in the US, he says.
Is two years to commercial service too ambitious? Eaglen says it's doable. The $20m on the table from central government would cover "the majority of costs" two finish R&D and build the first two vessels.
He says there are no huge obstacles. Design is compete. Batteries will be off-the-shelf And EV Maritime's parent knows how to make boats. It's been in the business for more than 50 years.
And Seachange's Olson says although there are strong environmental arguments for electric ferries, the main appeal to operators will be that they are cheaper to run, and more reliable.
Once his company has its desired foothold in car ferries, he says he will return to his original plan - currently parked - to tackle the global container shipping market, which he says is $35 billion per year. It'll be a long search across an unknown ocean, but his stretch goal is to gain 10 per cent of that market within 10 years.
For his part, Eaglen sees it as inevitable that electric ferries will replace diesel vessels - at least until someone comes along with a hydrogen design ...