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Should the car be recharged on board or in port?

27 June 2022

The proportion of electric cars in the vehicle fleet is expected to increase dramatically in the next few years. This also affects ferry shipping, which must meet the charging needs. A new pre-study from Lighthouse has taken a closer look at how this is best done.

“It’s about finding the right balance between investments, environmental effects, customer value and safety”, says Martin Carlsson at Stena Teknik, who together with researchers at the University of Gothenburg and IVL conducted the pre-study Laddning av elbilar på färjor och terminaler.

The researchers have taken a closer look at the pros and cons of charging on board or at the terminal. There are lots of variations of this, says Martin Carlsson and explains that the idea with the pre-study has been to map different conditions and scenarios so that shipping companies can create good business models for electric car charging. However, there are a couple of differences to start from.

“The advantage of charging ashore is that the electricity is green. The disadvantage is that it is very expensive to draw new electricity and build charging stations on land. You may not even own the land and electricity companies and others need to be involved. If you choose charging on board, you can control everything yourself, but the big disadvantage is that it is more difficult to get green electricity.

And how about the safety?

“It is clear that if you charge batteries on board, the risk of fire and accidents increases. But in terms of safety, it should not be a problem to implement this if you only take the right measures. You need extra surveillance, detection with the help of an IR camera, the right routines for handling cables and so on.”

Charging service for electric cars is not a cash cow, says Martin Karlsson. Nevertheless, it is a must for the shipping companies. Charging infrastructure for electric vehicles is not just a crucial issue to achieve set environmental goals - it is also becoming something that customers expect and disappointment arises if the service is not offered.

“Since there is no established product, it is difficult to say what customers want to pay. In five years they may not want to pay for charging at all, and the shipping companies that do not offer the service for free may not get any cars to transport. Or maybe you can charge well, for example by packaging it in a VIP service? Or maybe you will have to sell it cheaply to the masses? No one knows.

Creating a profitable and attractive business model for charging infrastructure is not easy and there are about as many alternatives as there are shipping companies and ships.

“The conditions are so different. Today, the dominant energy source on board is fossil, but if you have an extra battery for electricity generation, for example, well then you can say that you have green electricity on board. However, I do not think that so many are willing to install extra batteries for this but choose to have charging stations at the terminal.”

No matter what the charging infrastructure will look like, Martin Karlsson does not think that customers will be able to be offered to charge as much as they like on board.

“No, no, that's unthinkable. I would be very surprised if we have 100 charging stations on board in the future. What we are talking about is 10-20, says Martin Carlsson.

Footnote: The pre-study Laddning av elbilar på färjor och terminaler has been authored by Henrik Kloo IVL Swedish Environmental Institute, Jon Williamsson University of Gothenburg and Martin Carlsson, Stena Teknik

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