Haugesund goes electric and autonomous

Cluster partner Haugesund municipality

wants to become greener and smarter with an autonomous, electric passenger ferry, powered by renewable energy. A recent study shows that the project is feasible.

The “smart city” thinking is an integrated part of Haugesund’s strategy. The city and the neighbouring municipality and island Karmøy together have more than 86,000 inhabitants. Many of them need to commute on a daily basis on busy roads. The two municipalities are divided by sea, which could serve as an alternative transport route.

– A smart city also means a green city. An electric and autonomous ferry will combine the two concepts into one sustainable transport solution that will reduce both road traffic and emissions. It is important for us to be a front runner, and the municipality has ambitious targets to become more sustainable, the Mayor of Haugesund, Arne-Christian Mohn, says.

The municipality looked to NCE Maritime CleanTech for support to conduct a feasibility study to evaluate the potential for an electric, autonomous ferry in the city. The project also involves cluster partners Brødrene Aa and Westcon Power And Automation. They are looking into solutions for autonomous operations and how staffing, speed and size will influence on the business model.

The project is partly financed by the municipality and Innovation Norway’s early stage funding program “Innovasjonsrammen”.

Reducing emissions and traffic

Especially during rush hour, the region sees a worsening traffic situation. To have a well-functioning city in the future, measures need to be taken today. The transport system must serve the inhabitants in an effective and sustainable way.

– With two hospitals, a university, a shipyard and the municipality administration located downtown we urgently need a sustainable, alternative transport solution. We want to move people faster from Karmøy island to Haugesund at the same time as reducing emissions and the pressure on our road system, says Mohn, who sees the ferry as a supplement to other forms of public transport.

– The ferry will compete with private cars, not with public buses or distribution of goods. Our vision is also that the ferry stops will be equipped with electric bicycles, that can take the passengers to their workplaces, he explains.

A feasible solution

Urbanet Analyse have studied the potential passenger numbers for an electric ferry in the area on behalf of NCE Maritime CleanTech and Haugesund municipality. The conclusion is that there are enough passengers for a route between the north of Karmøy and Haugesund, as long as the frequency is high. From the south of Karmøy the ferry will not be economically feasible, because the buses will do a better job.

– When calculating the traffic, we have not included the approximately 200,000 yearly cruise passengers that could use the ferry from the terminal to the city centre. I really believe that we will be able to realize the electric ferry, but still the costs to build the vessel is a challenge. And as we want to keep the prices on public transport in Haugesund low, we also need to keep operating costs to a minimum, Mohn says.

Think large

Autonomy is one way of reducing costs, allowing the vessel to sail with less or no crew at all. The Norwegian Maritime Authority is of course engaged in the project. There is, however, still a long way to go when it comes to technology and regulations before a passenger ferry will be fully autonomous.

– I recently discussed the subject with a professor at our local university who is an expert in the human aspect of technology. She emphasised that we need to have automation as a basis and then develop the project into a fully autonomous route from there. We cannot expect a vessel to operate automatically from day one, says Mohn.

A national pilot

The Mayor wants Haugesund to become a national pilot for an urban, electric passenger ferries. He thinks that at least nine cities along the coast could use their waterways to transport people.

– We need to think larger than one single project. We should handle this as one national project, to keep costs low and to develop the most sustainable solution. This must be convenient for the Norwegian Maritime Authority, that need to prepare new regulations in order to allow vessels to operate autonomously. I think NCE Maritime CleanTech could be an owner of such a project, he says.

– I also believe that the Sunnhordland and Haugalandet regions have most of the technologies that we need to build the ferry. And the electric infrastructure on shore will be taken care of by our local utility provider, Haugaland Kraft, Arne-Christian Mohn says.