New Niagara Falls electric ferries have set sail!

Two Niagara Falls electric ferries launch a new era Tuesday, October 6, when they start taking passengers right up to (and back from) the thundering waters at the base of the international tourist attraction without using a single drop of fuel. The Maid of the Mist corporation that operates them notes they are ” the first two new all-electric, zero-emission passenger vessels in the United States.”

The commissioning of the ferries was first announced in May of 2019 and they were scheduled to be in service about this time last year, but ran into delays. Better late than never, though, and 2020 is definitely a year when we can all get some joy out of celebrating good things like this!

The Nikola Tesla and James V. Glynn

The two catamarans are charged after each trip to 80% capacity by a system from ABB, who worked on the landmark project with the Maid of the Mist company, the New York State Parks and the New York Power Authority.

One of the boats is named Nikola Tesla, for obvious reasons, while the other, the James V. Glynn, is named after a man who worked for Maid of the Mist for 70 years, most recently as its chairman.

James Glynn Maid of The MistMr. Glynn joined Maid of the Mist in 1950 as a ticket seller and purchased the company in 1971. Now 86 years old, he was at the private launching ceremony on Monday and told NPR (National Public Radio) “My first job at the Maid was having a palm of pamphlets. I gave you a pamphlet and a ticket and I asked for a dollar. The ticket was 90 cents for the boat and ten cents for the elevator.”

The Maid of the Mist is one of North America’s longest-running tourist attractions, first launched in 1846. Having been on the trip myself, I can tell you it is an incredible experience. You board the boats in the calm waters downstream from the Falls, then slowly make your way toward them as the sound grows louder and louder.

Within a few minutes, you feel you are almost close enough to reach out of the boat and touch the 680,000 gallons of water falling every second, yelling to be heard by your fellow passengers and it’s then that you begin to wonder if the boat has enough power to move away or if it will get sucked into the maelstrom and smashed to smithereens.

Niagara Falls electric ferries perfect for the demands

Electric ferries are actually perfect for the trip because they have high torque motors which deliver power instantly. On the diesel boats, you can feel the ferry shaking as the engines build up enough thrust to pull away from the Falls.

The Nikola Tesla and James V. Glynn replace two diesel-fueled boats – Maid of the Mist VI and Maid of the Mist VII. The first has already been retired while the company will hold on to Maid of the Mist VII for the short term as they transition to electric.

The first guests will be able to board the new electric vessels at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 6.

All-electric ferries come to Canada

Lake Ontario mainland to Amherst Island and Wolfe Island

New all electric ferries that will reduce greenhouse emissions by 1,357 cars (7.4 million kg of CO2/year) are expected to start operating in early 2020 for Amherst Island and a year later for Wolfe Island.  The Province of Ontario is investing approximately $94 million and the Government of Canada is contributing up to a maximum of $31 million towards building the new ferries.

Existing ferries transport about 1.2 million passengers and 545,000 cars each year from Kingston to the islands near the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. The new ferries – one 98m and the other 68m – match the capacity and speed of the existing diesel burning ships. The larger of the two will run from Kingston to Wolfe Island, carrying up to 400 people and 75 cars, the smaller Amherst Island model carrying 300 and 42. Both have top speeds of 12 knots.

One of the most challenging aspects of building electric ferries is not the actual boat itself, but how it is charged. The ferries will be built by the Damen company of the Netherlands, and their contract includes an automated mooring and charging system in which the vessels are automatically connected to the shore power grid on landing.

Electric ships gaining momentum

Back in 2014 one of Norway’s major ferry companies, Norled, announced the world’s first fully electric battery-powered car ferry. Its competitor Fjord 1 – the largest ferry operator in Norway – has also joined the electric revolution with not only ferries but also cruise ships visiting the country’s famous Fjords.

In China an all-electric cargo ship ironically transports coal to power generating stations. While that may not seem like progress, cargo ships and cruise ships are some of the biggest contributors to atmospheric carbon.

They burn the lowest grades of dirty diesel bunker fuel, and some studies have shown “only 15 cargo ships can produce the same amount of pollution as all of the cars in the world.“

One of the solutions is a combination solar panel/sail from Japan’s Eco Marine Power (EMP) now being tested on cargo ships.

And there is the majestic ship Tûranor Planet Solar, which circumnavigated the globe on nothing but sun power and was our Sunday Solar Photo of the Day a few weeks ago.

What better place to welcome all-electric non-emitting ferries than the Great Lakes, the planet’s largest source of fresh water.

Image: Damen. Photo of a 58m Damen ferry operating in Turkey.

Norway leads an electric ferry revolution

Back in 2014 one of Norway’s major ferry companies, Norled, announced the world’s first fully electric battery powered car ferry. Now electric ferries are becoming the latest must-have for one of the world’s most maritime-travel intense nations.

If you’ve ever seen a map of Norway, you’ll know that ferries are a big deal. It’s coastline has thousands of fjord inlets, and if you take into account all of them, it has 25,148 km of coastline – the 8th longest in the world. Just behind Australia (25,760) and well ahead of The U.S. (19,924) and China (14,500). 

Named ‘Ampere’ after the unit of electric current, it went into service in June of 2015 and in its first two years sailed a distance equivalent to 4 times around the Equator, racking it up 6 km at a time by shuttling back and forth between two little ports called Lavik and Oppedal.

The boat stops for only 10 minutes at each end, and using a charger from Corvus Energy it gets an electric top up in those 10 minutes and a full re-charge overnight. It makes 34 crossings a day. With no fossil fuel expenses. No wonder Norled’s competitors want one. 

Others are jumping in on the electric ferry future

The largest ferry operator in Norway – Fjord 1 – ordered en electric ferry from the same class as Ampere – ZeroCat – but of course it boasts higher speeds and carries more cars and people. Ferries and passenger boats run by Fjord1 carry 10.5 million vehicles and 21.5 million passengers a year.

And these aren’t the only electric ferries in the country:

  • in late January Fjord 1 received a delivery of two Turkey-manufactured electric ferries
  • the country’s public transport provider Boreal has one on order
  • on the scenic touring side of things a 400 passenger catamaran “Future of the Fjords” will start cruising the waters of the country’s famously majestic fjords in April (see video below)
  • and Siemens sees the market as so promising that it is moving its battery production for electric marine vessels to Norway this spring

Beyond that, they also look pretty neat.

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We sometimes forget that the path to batteries and chargers and other systems that can get us to a drastically reduced carbon future are being built and tested every day in applications like these.

They get better and better with each iteration, and the learning and technology is used not just in other boats but in both personal items like car chargers and mega-sized industrial items like electric storage for wind and solar farms.

On Norway!! (and they’re also leading the medal count at the Winter Olympics!)