Challenges facing electrification in the arctic

The harsh climate in the arctic dictate robustness from installed equipment. Even more so, when it concerns electric installations near the ocean.
There are four approaches to prepare an electric vessel on docking;

  • Inductive charging (indirect)
  • Charging tower (autonomous)
  • Charging points and cable charging (manual)
  • Battery as a service (exchanging batteries)

A general rule of thumb is that the more moving parts a system has, the more prone to failures it becomes. This is especially noticeable in the arctic. Due to changing weather conditions with wind and waves, low temperatures and ice, high tides – wear and tear in the equipment is increased.Considering most existing solutions are developed for climate further to the south, the demand for technical support and spare parts increases. When service cannot be provided within a reasonable amount of time, alternative services must be prepared.

Through pre-studies, including discussions and one-on-one interviews, operators presented their thoughts from a cost-benefit point of view. The findings were unanimous. Operational reliability is the number one focus. The beneficial aspects of simplicity through manual cable connection stands the test in the arctic.

Charging towers have been tested, but are prone to lock up or get damaged when ice builds up or waves hit the charging ports. With lack of qualified service personnel to handle such issues, it may take days or weeks to correct such incidents. This is not tolerable when dealing with vessels that are considered to cross between islands on regular intervals. Unless a 60/40 hybrid ferry is put into traffic, there will also be a need for always having a replacement (normally diesel powered) ferry in standby mode to step in when situations may demand it.

Other elements may also cause an electric ferry deemed unsuitable for traffic such as reduction of battery efficiency when temperature drops below zero. Added to the fact that the power consumption increases when it gets colder, the vulnerability may similarly increase in regions where the power grid is already weak. Energy prices may also affect the decisions caused by changes in demand/response.

These considerations are primarily the focus on larger vessels that depends on a regular schedule. Offering shoreside power to boats that are more flexible in terms on time and location, is therefore not any issue.Based on these findings, the arctic offers several unique challenges. The process of introducing clean, sustainable energy at port facilities will therefore depend on a mix between improvement in technology, battery efficiency and support.