The Dawn of Electric Ferries: A Revolution in Maritime Transportation

The Dawn of Electric Ferries: A Revolution in Maritime Transportation

The maritime industry is on the brink of a revolution. The country's largest ferry system, Washington State Ferries, is leading the charge towards a greener future. With a ridership of over 17 million people last year and about 24 million annually pre-pandemic, this ferry system is making waves by shifting to a zero-emissions fleet by 2050.


The Green Revolution
"We are leading America in this revolution," said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. The initiative began a few months ago with the conversion of the first of Washington's ferries to hybrid-electric power. Two more conversions are planned through 2025. The retrofitted ferries will operate on battery-electric power most of the time.

The Impact
In Washington state and nationwide, the transportation sector is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Electrifying ferries — and eventually, commercial shipping — is an essential step toward reducing the country's carbon footprint. Washington's ferry system is the biggest polluter among the state's agencies, producing roughly 180,000 metric tons of emissions in 2019 and consuming about 19 million gallons of diesel fuel per year.

The Future
The agency plans to electrify eight of its 10 ferry routes over the next 14 years. This requires building 16 new hybrid-electric ferries. The system's first fully electric ferry is expected to be online in 2027, connecting Seattle and Bainbridge Island.

The Challenges
Electrifying the ferry fleet is projected to cost about $4 billion. Washington has so far pieced together about $1.3 billion from state and federal sources, as well as grants. "We know we may face obstacles, but we are going to get there," says Amy Scarton, deputy secretary of the Washington State Department of Transportation.

The Bigger Picture
Other efforts are underway to reduce boat emissions in the Pacific Northwest. The Port of Seattle has been installing shore power systems for cruise ships, allowing the giant vessels to connect to electricity and turn off diesel engines while in port. A new Pacific Northwest hydrogen hub — funded by $1 billion from the 2021 federal infrastructure law — could help develop cleaner fuels to replace the dirty bunker fuel typically used in commercial shipping.


Source: Axios