Wärtsilä Is Swapping Batteries For Waterway Vessels In The Netherlands

Battery swapping has long been a controversial topic in the electric car world. Better Place tried it and customers I talked to loved it, but Better Place ended up running out of money. Tesla set up one lonely battery swapping station in the middle of nowhere for a while — and it’s still a discussion today whether Tesla really trialled battery swapping or fake trialled it. Now NIO is doing battery swapping at a scale no company has before in China, and is also beginning to roll it out in Norway. Will it work in the long term? While electric car battery swapping is an interesting topic of discussion, though, I have to admit that I’m more curious about battery swapping for marine vessels now that I’ve heard about it.

The news is that Wärtsilä has come up with a mobile battery swapping system to help power and re-power electric waterway vessels. I thought that perhaps this has been around for a while and I just forgot about it. (It has happened that I thought a technology was new only to find that I wrote about it 5 or 10 years ago.) But the freshness was not an illusion. The first order, for an initial 3 units, was just placed and fulfilled in June in the Netherlands.

How big are these electric water vessel batteries? Big. Each of the systems has an energy capacity that’s equal to what 36 electric cars have in their batteries. (Disclosure: I don’t know what they are using for an average electric car battery size, and do not have a figure for the large marine vessel battery either — which would of course tell me what they are using for the average electric car battery size. Though, I assume they assumed an average electric car battery size of somewhere between 50 kWh and 70 kWh, and I’d guess 50 kWh if I was forced to guess. That would mean an 1800 kWh or 1.8 MWh battery storage system. Assuming 60 kWh, the figure would be 2,160 kWh/2.16 MWh. In any case, it’s a big-ass battery.)

All 3 of the units ordered in June were put into a 104 TEU inland waterway container vessel.

“The concept, which is supported by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, is based on a network of open access charging points. Here, depleted battery containers can be exchanged for fully charged replacements. A ‘pay-per-use’ model has been set up whereby ZES charges only for the cost of consumed renewable energy. This allows the vessel’s operating costs to remain competitive.” ZES (Zero Emission Services) is the company that bought the initial units. ZES was founded just last year by ING Bank, Engie, the Port of Rotterdam, and Wärtsilä. So, yes, a company cofounded by Wärtsilä bought the battery units from Wärtsilä — but I’m sure everything was done legally and fairly, especially since you can see that some very big players have been involved with Wärtsilä from early on.

“Wärtsilä is committed to supporting all efforts towards the decarbonisation of shipping. This initiative is part of that commitment. We have leveraged our in-house know-how in maritime battery and hybrid systems, our shore power and remote connection capabilities, as well as our extensive experience in serving inland waterway applications for the development of this product,” says Torsten Büssow, Director, Electrical & Power Management System, Wärtsilä Marine Power.

“Within the Dutch transport sector, inland navigation accounts for five percent of the CO2 emissions. By switching from diesel fuelled to electric propulsion, an important step can be taken towards realising the Paris Climate Agreement targets. Ships participating in the ZES service will eliminate around 1000 tonnes of CO2 and 7 tonnes of NOx per year,” says Willem Dedden, CEO of ZES.

The first ship to use this mobile battery storage solution started operating on September 6th. “The Wärtsilä swappable battery container is fully equipped with safety systems, including an onboard fire protection skid. It is connected for remote monitoring. The operational and certification trials were carried out commencing in the end of August, 2021,” Wärtsilä claims. It will be operating in the Zoeterwoude—Alpherium—Moerdijk corridor transporting bill there.

We’ll see how this initial commercial trial goes. It does seem like a good solution to help electrify certain shipping fleets faster than they would have electrified otherwise — even if they’re just shipping HEINEKEN, as is the case here.

Featured image courtesy of Wärtsilä.


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Categories: Energy