According to Arthur Roeling, Director R&D and Service at VETUS, the uptake of electric propulsion in private craft is much slower than it ought to be, given the benefits the technology can now bring to so many boat owners: “Electric propulsion systems are still suffering from the stigma that was brought to the sector by early attempts at marine electrification. These technologies, although critical to get the sector moving, used improperly marinized components, and earlier, heavier, lower energy density battery technologies.”
Plug and play system
This is the first misconception about electrical propulsion that VETUS is keen to address. Thanks to innovations such as the integrated and modular VETUS E-DRIVE systems, continues Roeling, it’s now possible for boat owners upgrading existing hulls or boatbuilders creating new electric boats, to pick electrification packages from menus based on hull type and range requirements: “No longer do boat owners have to shop between various suppliers of motors, controllers and energy storage systems, hoping that the complete system will work at the end of it all. Selecting a plug and play system from a single manufacturer like VETUS takes away all the risk and removes the potential issues of component incompatibility, underpowering or range under delivery.”
Another big misconception according to Roeling is that due to the realities of system weight and battery energy density, any kind of electric propulsion for boats simply does not add up. Some believe that electric propulsion delivers poor range, poor performance or both. It is true that if you wish to power a planing, high performance 12m offshore RIB, making it capable of travelling 300 miles at 40 knots in open water without refuelling or recharging, electrification is definitely not viable. VETUS E–DRIVE motors suit a range of boats, all suitable for electrification, covering sail, power, and narrow boats.
Electric range anxiety
Touching on yet another marine electrification misconception, electric range anxiety is often cited as a reason to stick with fossil fuel powering options, continues Roeling: “Convincing boat owners around what they think they need, versus, what they actually need to enjoy their boat, is another big obstacle. It’s often cited that a full day on the water is the big switch off when it comes to electric but typical usual is more often a couple of hours, moor up, have lunch, set off again.
Battery technologies and motor, controller and drive systems have moved on and become much more efficient. VETUS offers a selection of deep-cycle and lithium batteries for electric propulsion solutions. Lighter, higher capacity, deeper cycling batteries offer a virtuous circle for a boat, because the overall battery bank weight is reduced, so the boat is lighter and easier to push through the water, requiring in turn less power and so an even lighter battery pack.
The second solution to the range anxiety problem is better range intelligence and reporting. The E- DRIVE packages can integrate with NMEA2000 solutions. Unique to VETUS, this connectivity means- the user has crucial visibility of remaining battery charge and runtime when installing the VETUS battery monitoring shunt. The shunt takes the damping effect of the big battery pack out of the mix so that the multifunction display can provide a much more accurate idea of remaining battery percentage charge and therefore usable range. Thanks to the cleverly applied cooling system, you get the maximum power from the motor and the maximum range from the batteries. A full day on the water without limitations. ”
VETUS E-Drive solutions
The VETUS E-LINE motor suits a range of boats, depending on required speed and range. Covering sail, power and even narrow boats of about 11 metres and above, it is designed to fit the existing propulsion foundation and propeller shaft installation. Featuring a compact design, the E-LINE is available in six models with liquid or air cooling and an output power of 4 to 10kW.
The VETUS E-POD on the other hand is ideal as a space-saving refit solution for sailboats with a sail drive, as well as for new build sail and motorboats, and is the most efficient VETUS E-DRIVE system. The system combines the motor, vibration damping, cooling, gearbox, clutch, propeller shaft and propeller into one complete system; a pod mounted beneath the hull.
Both VETUS E-DRIVE packages incorporate an intelligent, patented motor controller, active electric braking for easier, safer manoeuvring and a state-of-the-art brushless induction motor for various boat sizes and hull types.
Better slow speed manoeuvring
Boaters upgrading to fully electric propulsion from diesel inboards or petrol outboards, apart from the obvious benefits of near silent travel and zero fumes, also report that slow speed manoeuvring of the vessel is greatly improved. The propeller speed can be controlled down to zero and the shift between forward and reverse is an instantaneous flick of an electronic controller rather than the much slower mechanical shift with grinding gears. Electric motors produce their maximum torque directly at their lowest RPM, so an electric boat can be manoeuvred very slowly indeed with maximum response at berthing and unberthing speeds. Compare this with an internal combustion- powered boat, where often, even when running at the engine’s minimum RPM, the boat is still trying to move faster than the skipper would like, meaning very slow speed manoeuvres are often a stressful, fuel consuming and inelegant series of mechanical gearbox shifts between forward and reverse.
Solving marine electrification via an integrated and modular set of systems is also a cheaper way of achieving the desired results, says VETUS. Thanks to the manufacturing economies of scale and lower component counts, today’s warranted, properly marinized marine electric propulsion systems are substantially cheaper than the bespoke systems of old, as well as being much more reliable. The biggest cost advantage over fossil fuel propulsion lies in the operational costs. Recent hikes in the cost of fossil fuels have shown that cheap fuel is far from a future certainty and depending on charging infrastructure, cost per mile of an electric boat is usually significantly cheaper than petrol or diesel power. Servicing costs and servicing downtime for electric motors are much less than those requirements for internal combustion engines- they only require checks and ongoing monitoring rather than regular scheduled maintenance such as oil and filter changes.
These technological developments come at a perfect time for the marine electrification movement. It is no coincidence that VETUS is a Netherlands-headquartered company and that the Netherlands has one of the most progressive emissions regulations timelines in the world. Not only is the EU banning all new diesel and petrol engine vehicles from its roads from 2035, The Netherlands has also made an unprecedented parallel commitment when it comes to its waterways. Amsterdam is even further ahead; more pressing concerns around this busy city’s air quality have led to a complete diesel and petrol ban for all vehicles, including boats on the city centre’s canals, by 2025. Norway, France and the UK are all at various stages on similarly progressive policies.
VETUS though is keen to express the benefits of electric propulsion in and of itself, rather than pointing a trembling finger towards the giant fist of impending legislation. As Roeling concludes: “It is now more viable than ever for private boat owners to go electric because they want to, not because they soon might have to. The VETUS mission is to make boating more comfortable and less environmentally damaging. We encourage owners of small recreational craft to take in their environment, with less speed and more relaxation.”
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