Plan to Electrify Canadian Ferries Supporting Domestic Shipbuilding

B.C. Ferries proposed electricfication of ferries supporting Canadian shipbuilding
Launch of the fourth Island Class ferry at Damen shipyard in December 2020 (B.C. Ferries photo)

Published Feb 2, 2021 8:12 PM by The Maritime Executive

Canada’s B.C. Ferries, which promotes itself as one of the largest ferry operators in the world, has presented a bold plan for the electrification of a third of its fleet in support of Canada’s environmental goals and shipbuilding industry. The plan, which would take up to seven years to complete, focuses on the company’s routes that operate along Vancouver Island. 

Saying that the effort could be one of the most significant carbon-reduction programs in the maritime industry and a major boost to Canadian industry, B.C. ferries proposes with government support to carry out both the conversion of existing ferries as well as the construction of new vessels domestically in Canada.

The price tag for the project is expected to exceed C$1 billion ($800 million). Previously, the company has said that it would cost up to 50 percent more to build ferries domestically in Canada. For this new project, it is calling on the federal and provincial governments to provide funding to cover the differential between domestic and international shipbuilding. B.C. Ferries is also proposing that Hydro Canada underwrite the approximately C$150 million cost of converting the nine terminals to provide charging capabilities for the electrified ferries.

B.C. Ferries is currently building six new hybrid diesel-electric ferries at the Damen shipyard in Romania. The vessels, which are currently beginning delivery and testing, were designed for fully electric operations when the technology becomes available. In the first phase of the new plan, these six ferries would be converted to full electric drive at a Canadian shipyard.

The first of the new ferries, the Island Aurora, was recently delivered by Damen and is scheduled to run its first test runs in February along the route serving Vancouver Island. While travel is currently limited in Canada to essential travel, passengers and cars will be permitted aboard the ferry for two days as the company develops information from the operations about efficiencies and loading as it prepares for the introduction of the new class of ferries in 2022. In December 2020, Damen launched the fourth of the ferries, which have the capacity to carry at least 47 vehicles and up to 400 passengers and crew depending on the configuration. In 2022, these ferries are scheduled to begin operation on three of B.C. Ferries’ 25 routes, replacing older diesel-powered vessels.

In the second phase of the electrification plan, B.C. Ferries proposes building seven additional electric driven ferries. All of these ferries would be built at a Canadian Shipyard and possibly a yard located in the province of British Columbia.

B.C. Ferries is currently preparing a presentation for the federal government to develop support for the plan. The electrification plan also aligns with political promises made during the recent both to bolster Canadian shipbuilding and accelerate environmental initiatives.