Hybrid power on the ferries

The Edmonds-Kingston run could see the ferries’ first conversion to cleaner, cost-saving energy
By Brian Soergel | Apr 12, 2018
Photo by: Brian Soergel The Puyallup, commissioned in 1999, could be running on hybrid power within five years.

Washington State Ferries is in the preliminary stage of converting three of its Jumbo Class II boats from diesel to hybrid electric power, and the Puyallup – which serves the Edmonds-Kingston run – could be first in line for the environmentally friendly and cost-saving upgrade.

Gov. Jay Inslee included $600,000 in his 2017 transportation budget to WSF to study the transition. A hybrid integration study was completed in February, and a request for proposals for design and implementation is now being planned.

In addition to the Puyallup, two other boats – the Tacoma and Wenatchee, which primarily serve the Seattle-Bainbridge run – would be included in the conversion.

“Essentially, we’re evaluating how to move forward with electrification of the Puyallup, Wenatchee and Tacoma,” WSF spokesman Ian Sterling said. “It’s yet to be decided if we do one boat at a time or all three at once, and how charging would work at which docks. It’s pretty safe to say that we’re confident that in the next few years people will be riding at least one electric Washington State ferry.

“Edmonds-Kingston is on the short list; it’s likely just a matter of time.”

Sterling comes right to the point when discussing the need for converting the three boats.

“People are stoked about it,” he said. “I mean, they’re gas hogs. ”

Yes, they are. The Puyallup, Tacoma and Wenatchee are only three of the fleet’s 22 boats, but they are the largest at 460 feet and consume 26 percent of the fuel. They are, not surprisingly, the largest emitters of carbon emissions. In addition, they are all over or near 20 years old and in need of propulsion overhauls, Sterling said.

Sterling said the conversion to hybrid technology would mean a 90 percent reduction per vessel in emissions and fuel consumption

In addition to making the ferries quieter and cleaner, he added, the conversion – which would save about $14 million a year – would pay for itself relatively quickly.

All vessels currently are powered by a diesel-electric propulsion system with four propulsion diesel generators and four electric propulsion motors. This all means, Sterling said, that a hybrid conversion would be made easier with the existing diesel-electric system.

“You can run diesel to charge the batteries, so now you’re in Prius mode,” Sterling said, referring to Toyota’s hybrid car.

By installing lithium-ion battery banks below deck and converting the Jumbo Mark IIs to all electric propulsion, carbon emissions would be drastically reduced, Sterling said. It is likely that two of the propulsion generators would be removed, he added. Backup diesel generators would be kept to be used when needed.

The batteries would be charged primarily from shore-based sources; locally, it has yet to be determined if that source would be in Edmonds or Kingston.

According to WSF’s February report, the Tacoma and Wenatchee each make about 7,200 crossings per year, while the Puyallup makes about 7,800. Because of the Puyallup’s larger amount of time on the Edmonds-Kingston route, the report said, the battery pack would support a higher projected cycle life.

That could give the Puyallup a leg up on being the first boat to be converted, which could be accomplished within five years, Sterling said. It’s not going to come cheap, as the conversion cost is estimated to be about $35 million per boat.

It’s likely, Sterling said, that some of the money would come from the federal Volkswagen settlement, led by the Environmental Protection Agency, that exposed Volkswagen had illegally installed software that cheated emissions tests on many of its diesel vehicles.

Washington state is receiving $112.7 million from the settlement, with that money going toward efforts to reduce air pollution from transportation. Washington state’s Department of Ecology is leading the effort to manage the funds.




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