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Passenger Ship Technology

Wightlink – why hybrid battery is future power choice

Fri 30 Nov 2018 by Rebecca Moore

Wightlink – why hybrid battery is future power choice
New vessels in Wightlink’s fleet are likely to be battery-hybrid, like its flagship Victoria of Wight (credit: Patrick Hughes)

Wightlink’s project director opens up on the company’s future fleet plans and why the company believes batteries are the way forward for new vessels

Wightlink’s new ropax ferry Victoria of Wight runs on battery hybrid – and the UK ferry operator believes this power system is the way forward for its future fleet.

Victoria of Wight – delivered in August 2018 – is the first of the company’s fleet, which travels between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, to be equipped with a battery hybrid system. Passenger Ship Technology 4th quarter 2018 covered the newbuild in depth; in this article, Wightlink project director John Burrows unveils the fleet strategy of the operator.

In Victoria of Wight, batteries provide a support service to the diesel generators and work as generators in harbour mode. The batteries are charged from the diesel generators. Four 1,100-kW engines have been provided by Wärtsilä.

Hybrid versus fully electric

Explaining why the ferry operator decided against full-electric propulsion, Mr Burrows said that when the contract for the vessel was placed three years ago, “battery technology was racing on”, but was in no position to offer the company the option of full-electric propulsion. “We needed diesel on board and Wärtsilä’s hydrid system suits our needs perfectly.”

Sea trials showed Victoria of Wight could run on batteries alone for 50 minutes, although Mr Burrows said there were no plans to run the vessel solely on batteries.

Indeed, he indicated that if the company were to order another new vessel, it would also be powered by battery dual-fuel. “Batteries have not moved on quite enough to go all-electric, and we also need the power available on shore. But Portsmouth does not have huge reserves of power and the amount we can pull from the shore is limited.”

Still, Mr Burrows is not ruling out the all-electric option, noting that the technology is “improving very rapidly”.

He expanded “We do our utmost to be a good neighbour and being in a lovely location [Portsmouth] brings responsibilities. If we order another vessel today, we would go with the same power train as we have now. But battery technology is improving very rapidly and there will come a time when there is the move to totally electric, but we are not there yet and so far, we are totally happy with the system. With the vessel running constantly we will have a clearer idea of fuel savings.”

Wärtsilä representatives will spend five days on the ship to programme and set the hybrid system at the optimum level, so that the right power for the biggest savings and biggest reduction in emissions is drawn.

Victoria of Wight will replace Wightlink’s St Cecilia vessel. Mr Burrows explained “At the moment we have more vessels than we need, so we have every opportunity to dispose of one vessel, and the likelihood is that it will be St Cecilia as this is our oldest vessel on the route. We will dispose of her in the not too distant future.” The company plans to sell St Cecilia, having sold two previous sister vessels. “So, there is a market for them,” said Mr Burrows.

He explained that traditionally the company replaces its ferries at around 35 years old, therefore the next vessel to be replaced in 2026 will be St Faith. “You can’t just push the button and a new one [appears], it will probably be a three-year process, so probably in 2022 and 2023 we will be going out to the market to tender.”

In terms of refits to the current fleet, each vessel undergoes routine maintenance at drydock, while St Clare underwent a refurbishment in the passenger areas, including passenger decks and toilets a few years ago. Shore works are also linked to the rolling programme of refurbishment, and St Clare had its upper car decks extended by 5 m at either end as they were shorter than the main car deck of the ferry and could not link to the ferry operator’s upper tier of the new two-tier car loading system on shore.

This is unique as it allows unloading and loading cars via a two-car ramp instead of one. Mr Burrows said “The double-tier loading means we can use the top and bottom deck at the same time. The reason is speed of turnaround on a very tight timetable. We only have 15-20 minutes to unload and load cars. When we loaded St Clare off a single ramp, we struggled to keep it on time. The two tiers allow us to turn ships around much more rapidly.”

The company has used Portsmouth BAE shipyard and facilities at Falmouth and Cherbourg to drydock over the last few years.

Mr Burrows explained that the company tried not to go too far to drydock as the ferries are especially designed for the Solent waters and are not seagoing due to weather restrictions. If the company wants to go to far afield, it has to get a load-line exemption. “That is not very easy, as there are weather restrictions on the journey,” said Mr Burrows. This is especially the case if the drydocking is carried out in winter, due to the sea state.  

While Wightlink is very pleased with the battery use on Victoria of Wight and sees this as the way forward for future vessels, it does not plan to retrofit hybrid battery systems on to its current fleet. Mr Burrows explained “We would not retrofit because it would be an enormous project and involve huge structural changes, including changing all the cabling. Victoria of Wight has two battery rooms, and a huge amount of time and effort was taken in designing them.” This includes fitting fixed fire-fighting and gas detection systems around the battery rooms, which would be “very difficult to retrofit for existing vessels and there would not be the right space”.

Furthermore, such a retrofit would not be cost effective.


John Burrows (Wightlink)

John Burrows is project director for Wightlink's £45M (US$58M) investment in the hybrid energy flagship Victoria of Wight and terminal improvements at both Portsmouth and Fishbourne terminals. He has held senior positions at the ferry company since 2006. Following roles in the hospitality industry, Mr Burrows’ maritime career began in 1988 when he joined Sealink British Ferries. Over the next 18 years he worked for the parent company in Stranraer, Belfast, Liverpool and New York, and also worked on projects in Qatar, Italy and Venezuela.

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