Advantages And Disadvantages Of Electric Marine Propulsion Systems

Decades ago,boat propulsion systems used diesel to run. But as the manufacturers continue to search for a more sustainable and eco-friendly alternative to diesel, they have invented diesel-electric marine propulsion systems and, later on, battery powered ship propulsion systems.

At first, battery-powered propulsion was used in small boats and dinghies. Yachts also take advantage of solar power. And now, bigger passenger boats, vessels, and cruise ships are experimenting with hybrid marine propulsion systems or diesel-electric propulsion systems.

Many people claim that a pure electric-powered stern thruster and tunnel thruster is the shipping industry’s future. But are they? This article will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of pure electric marine propulsion systems.

Advantages And Disadvantages Of Battery Powered Ship Propulsion Systems

Before tackling the advantages and disadvantages of the pure electric marine propulsion systems, this article will first discuss how they work.

Old ships and vessels use diesel propulsion engines, but in electrical propulsion systems, the propulsion engines use electrical load from the generators to start the propellers. 

But where do these generators get these electrical loads? Generators may use gas or diesel and solar power to kick start. Electric marine propulsion systems still have significantly lower emission rates than diesel propulsion engines.

Here are the advantages and disadvantages of battery powered ship propulsion:

ADVANTAGE: Silent engines

Electric marine propulsion systems are quieter than diesel propulsion engines chiefly because the propellers are not directly connected to the shaft, hence less noise and vibrations. 

Boat passengers are more comfortable riding on board because of the less noise and vibrations. Additionally, electric-powered dinghies used in nature reserves do not disturb birds and other animals as boats cruising along the river and lake.

Furthermore, large vessels with battery powered ship propulsion help keep the peace underwater. Noisy engines disturb and even hurt marine animals, especially marine mammals that communicate through echolocation like dolphins and whales. It could affect the marine mammal’s natural behaviours and routines.

DISADVANTAGE: Installation cost

Electric marine propulsion systems and their components, including the stern thruster and tunnel thruster, have a higher upfront cost than diesel propulsion engines.

Additionally, some parts and components are uncommon. It may be challenging to find spare parts or replacement parts in the market, and their costs are likely to be high.

It is also hard to find skilled labour with expertise and knowledge in installing electric marine propulsion systems. 

ADVANTAGE: Cost-effective

The upfront cost of battery powered ship propulsion and its components may be high, but using them is cost-effective in the long run.

Firstly, you get a portion of the energy for free if you use solar panels in addition to the generators.

Secondly, electrical boat propulsion systems use less diesel fuel. The price of diesel barrels fluctuates in the market. The lower your fuel consumption, the more money you save.

Lastly, diesel fuel increases friction in the engines. It means that the wear and tear of your engine are much faster because of the damaging friction. You have to spend more money on maintenance, repair, and component replacements for diesel propulsion engines.

Marine electrical propulsion systems lack this friction and vibrations; thus, fewer maintenance needs.

DISADVANTAGE: Completely different from the previous boat propulsion systems

The mechanical systems and controls of the electrical marine propulsion systems are mostly automated, which can be completely different from older boat propulsion systems. 

It means sailors need to study the new system and spend more time in training and using the new system for familiarisation. 

It does not include the training for minor or immediate repair; and troubleshooting, yet in case issues happen on board. 

Many centres offer training and instructional modules for hybrid and pure electrical marine propulsion systems.

ADVANTAGE: Eco-friendly

Electric boat propulsion systems are more sustainable and eco-friendly than fuel-powered engines.

Firstly, it has lower carbon emission rates. Some are almost zero, especially for small boats and dinghies. It helps in the reduction of air pollution, which is one of the causes of respiratory issues. 

Secondly, electric marine propulsion systems are more sustainable as they use renewable energy, such as solar and wind. Diesel is one of the non-renewable resources today, and Earth’s diesel reserves have continuously decreased throughout the years.

Thirdly, noise pollution can disturb the ecosystem underwater. Many marine mammals communicate through echolocation, and noise and vibrations can disrupt this method of communication.

DISADVANTAGE: Capability limitations

Unlike the diesel propulsion engine, electric boat propulsion systems have several capability limitations.

Firstly, the controls are less efficient than the fuel-powered engine due to its indirect drive setup. Fuel-powered engines have a direct-drive setup.

Secondly, the speed is much slower in the electrical propulsion system. 

Thirdly, electric boat propulsion systems are harder to control and manoeuvre in rough seas.

Now that you know the advantages and disadvantages of battery powered ship propulsion, it is time to discuss its applications.

Applications-Of-Battery-Powered-Ship-Propulsion-Systems

Applications Of Battery Powered Ship Propulsion Systems

Many watercraft now integrate hybrid and pure electric marine propulsion systems. Here are a few of them:

Cruise and Passenger Ferries

One reason why cruise liners and passenger ferries prefer electric marine propulsion systems is their noiseless engines.

Passengers are more comfortable in low noise and vibration-free boats and ships. It has lower carbon emissions as well.

Survey Vessels and Research Ships

Survey and research ships are large vessels in charge of mapping the ocean floor. They are used for hydrography, oceanography, dredging, and marine archaeology. 

These vessels use various kinds of sonar for research. A more silent engine is advantageous for this kind of work.

Fishing Vessels

Electric marine propulsion systems are incredibly lighter and consume less space than fuel-powered engines. Therefore, it reduces the vessel’s weight, allowing fisherfolks to load more catch onboard. 

Additionally, the silent engines do not disturb the schools of fish underwater.

Icebreakers

The role of icebreakers is to break the ice sheets floating to clear the way for other vessels. The electric marine propulsion systems’ more efficient stern thruster and tunnel thruster are advantageous for this task.

Conclusion

Battery powered ship propulsion is indeed the future of the shipping industry. But similar to other inventions, it still needs more improvement for better service and functions.

Nevertheless, it is a good step towards a sustainable and eco-friendly shipping industry. 

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