June 21, 2019

Seaview company ‘Wellington Electric Boat Building’ forms to build the first Southern Hemisphere electric boat.

East by West Ferries Managing Director Jeremy Ward is an advocate for being environmentally friendly and can’t foresee a drop in diesel prices anytime soon so decided to investigate building the first electric ferry to operate in the Southern Hemisphere with his current East by West Ferry fleet.

The existing two ferries transport 99 passengers, including many commuters, across the Wellington harbour between Days Bay, Matiu Somes Island, Seatoun and Queens Wharf.

The proposed 18.5 metre electric ferry would be the biggest boat of the fleet carrying 135 passengers and also promises to add extra trips on its service between Queens Wharf and Days Bay. Ward says the fully-electric boat should be built by the end of this year, and enter service shortly after. “The build cost of $4 million makes it an expensive boat, however the pay back costs of zero emissions, no diesel costs and longer maintenance timeframes would make it easier to pay back the costs over a 6-9 year period,” says Ward.

To alleviate the $4 million project build cost Ward is seeking support through grants from Gracefield based Callaghan Innovation and Energy Efficiency Conservation Authority (EECA). The company is also in discussions to partner with Meridian. Wellington Electric Boat Building was formed to build boats with the impression the electric boat building venture will take off. Ward approached experienced boat builder Fraser Foote to oversee the company which is based at Gracefield Road.

“Fraser has an outstanding reputation of boat building over the past forty years and knows boats backwards”. In fact, we now have companies in NZ and Australia watching us and wondering if we can build a boat for them. Our boat building company could become bigger than the ferry service company!” says Ward, Foote’s team of naval designers and engineers will construct the boat with the strong and light panels of carbon composite. The lightness is key to permit the electricity and power generated to allow the ferry to operate. Once the proposed hull is complete the boat would be transported 1.5kms down the road to Seaview Marina with the final assembly of the boat likely to be completed at Shed 3, with open days to the public on the cards, given the huge interest.

Ward can be described as a true Kiwi innovator. He explored the international market of environmentally friendly options taking inspiration from Norway which is a strong advocate of electric boats. To the extent that ‘by 2025 all Norwegian government contracted ferries are to be electric or hybrid electric’, Ward said. In fact, ecosystem news site Electrek reports that in 2018 the operators of Norway's all-electric ferry cut emissions by 95% and costs by 80% compared to fuel-powered counterparts with the results attracting more customers. This year East by West Ferries celebrates its 30th anniversary. It’s fair to say it’s come a long way and Seaview can be proud to have a company on its patch not only developing ground-breaking technology but also committed to doing good by the planet.