How likely are offshore charging stations to be in operation in the North Sea by 2025?

28 March 2019 - Published by Stig Marthinsen

How likely are offshore charging stations to be in operation in the North Sea by 2025?

Electrification of the seas has captured the imagination of the maritime community. The shipping industry is one of the largest and fastest growing sources of global CO2-emissions, putting electric and hybrid technologies for marine propulsion and zero emission ships are on the agenda. Costs of construction and maintenance of electric motors are forecasted to be below other propulsion systems because they are less complex and can last three times longer. Sophisticated lithium-ion batteries are powering the first semi-electric ferries in Scandinavia. They reduce CO2-emissions by 95% and operating costs by 80%. China claims to have produced fully electric ships with a battery capacity of 2,400 kWh, can navigate at a speed of up to 12.8 km per hour fully loaded, and travel up to 80 km on a single 2.5-hour charge.

Conventional approaches for battery charging can be applied to electrically operated ships. However, wireless (inductive) charging is under development- further eliminating the need for onsite support staff and connection cables. Onshore electric supply systems deliver over 3.000 MW for e.g. cruise liners and ferries. In the North Sea, offshore charging stations could be powered by wind energy, where production prices have fallen by 63% in the past six years to 65€/MWh (2018), and have the potential to scale to 2600TWh, making it cheaper than diesel.

Yet, there are technical challenges for large power connectors and operational challenges in electric “bunkering”. Matching the supply of offshore charging to the demands of an electrified mobile fleet gives a chicken-and-egg-problem for ships. Countries with substantial fleets may obstruct changes that would drive forward the electrification of the seas.

Do offshore vessel charging stations need more ships, or can they be used to power other systems? Can other offshore-related activities (aside from vessel charging) provide reasons for which the electrification of the seas can emerge?

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