Flying Electric Boat To Haul Commuters At Site Of Epic Environmental Protest

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The Swedish electric boat company Candela has just started commercial production of its new 30-passenger P-12 hydrofoil ferry, and customers are already lining up to get their hands on it. The zero emission watercraft levitates above the water while in motion. Energy efficiency for fossil-free travel is the main benefit of hydrofoil technology. The minimal wake of the electric boat is also a powerful attraction, especially when the goal is to preserve a World Heritage Site.

A Low-Wake Flying Electric Boat For A World Heritage Site

We’ll get to that historic environmental protest in a minute, but first let’s take a look at that electric boat. Candela has crossed the CleanTechnica radar a number of times with smaller iterations of  its hydrofoil technology, which leverages hydrodynamics to make its electric watercraft glide over water instead of cutting through it like a regular boat (see our full Candela archive here).

The P-12 is Candela’s first step up to passenger-scale ferries, and the New Zealand utility Meridian Energy is among the first to snatch one up.

If you’re wondering why Meridian reached all the way over to Sweden for an electric boat, that’s a good question. Meridian has been scouting for a zero emission ferry to haul workers and contractors across Lake Manapōuri, where the company operates a hydropower plant. The challenge was to find a fossil-free boat that could provide for a relatively speedy, efficient trip without generating a high wake.

The low-wake angle is an essential consideration for Meridian because Lake Manapōuri is located within Fiordland National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Wakes — the trail of waves left behind by a boat traveling through water — can do serious shoreline damage if unregulated.

The P-12 can hit a respectable speed of 25 knots, the equivalent of almost 30 miles per hour on land, while producing a wake of less than six inches high.

It’s the opposite of recreational “wake boats,” which are designed to generate surfer-quality waves while speeding around ecosystems. The Sierra Club is among those pointing out that wake boats can erode and damage shorelines. That’s just just for starters.

Wake boats are designed to take on water to reach a desirable angle for generating waves, and that can cause a world of hurt. “The downward angle of the propwash from wake boats causes algae blooms by stirring up sediment and reintroducing sequestered phosphorus and nitrates into the water column,” Sierra Club explains.

“Lake water is warmed by this increased turbidity, making aquatic ecosystems less hospitable for native flora and fauna. Often native plants are uprooted and fish nests destroyed,” they add.

Seagoing Batteries For The Electric Boat Of The Future

Electric boats are not exactly a new thing, but they need powerful batteries need to overcome the drag exerted by water, and that can add up to extra costs. While it may seem that lifting a whole boat out of the water requires even more energy and bigger batteries, Candela states that its hydrofoil technology cuts energy use by 80% compared to conventional powerboats.

Also potentially assisting at the cost-cutting end is the Swedish automaker Polestar. Candela tapped Polestar to collaborate on batteries and charging system for its electric boats back in August of 2022. The company’s CEO and founder, Gustav Hasselskog, was thinking big right out of the gate. “To make electric boats mainstream, we need to build thousands of boats every year,” he said.

“Electric boatbuilders typically have so far relied on smaller, boutique vendors of marine battery packs,” Candela explains. “Scarcity and high unit costs of these packs are two factors that have prevented electric boats from achieving parity with ICE vessels.

“The battery supply agreement is just the beginning of a broader intended partnership between Polestar and Candela, with both companies committed to exploring further opportunities for future collaboration,” Candela also hinted.

As for what kind of batteries, that’s a good question. Last fall, Reuters reported that Polestar will be the first automaker to use the new extreme fast-charging batteries developed by the Israeli startup StoreDot. However, it remains to be seen if that battery, or something like it, shows up on the Candela roster. CleanTechnica reached out to the company for some additional details, and it explained that batteries for its watercraft have to be certified for marine use.

Many Markets For Electric Ferry Boats

Ecosystem deployment is just one use case that matches the Candela’s focus on relatively high speed with low wake. Seaports and urban waterways are another potentially big market.

In particular, Candela has spotted an opportunity in cities, where a relatively speedy ferry could offer an attractive alternative to buses and other forms of mass transit. The company has been testing the P-12 in Stockholm, and it is on track to join the city’s public transportation system on a pilot basis sometime this year.

If all goes according to plan, the electric boat will cut 25 minutes off the 50-minute ground commute from the Stockholm suburb Ekerö to the city center.

Our friends over at Renewable Energy Magazine cite some additional examples. In New York City, travelers could  catch the electric boat in Manhattan and get to Newark-Liberty Airport in New Jersey in just 20 minutes. Another targeted commute is the  route between Wall Street and Greenwich, Connecticut.

Candela also reportedly put the P-12 through its paces in Washington, DC last fall. The trip from Georgetown to Ronald Reagan Washington Airport would normally take up to 20 minutes by car or 37 minutes by mass transit. The electric boat would shave that down to about 6 minutes.

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Epic Battle To Save Lake Manapōuri

As for that battle environmental battle, Meridian has a good rundown on its website. The power station at Lake Manapōuri is an 800-megawatt facility, the largest of its kind in New Zealand. It came into operation in stages between 1969 and 1972.

The original proposal involved raising the level of the lake by 30 meters.

“But Lake Manapōuri’s famed wooded islands would have disappeared, and the fragile shoreline beech forest would have been left to rot in the water,” Meridian notes. “An increasing number of New Zealanders realised the extent of the environmental impact, and protest became widespread and passionate.”

“The proposed raising of the lakes and subsequent planned draw down rates would have created a wasteland of submerged forests, slumped shorelines, loss of pristine beaches and the flooding of the Manapouri township,” notes the Guardians of Lakes Manapouri, Monowai and Te Anau, an advisory body created in the wake of the Save Manapouri campaign.

The protests were effective. By the time the facility was fully built in 1972, plans to raise the lake were ditched. The following year, the official Guardian system was organized.

UNESCO notes that the guarantee of an effective monitoring system was instrumental in its decision to designate Fiordland National Park as a World Heritage Site.

As for the new electric boat, Meridian expects delivery in 2025, so stay tuned for more on that.

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Image (cropped): A P-12 electric boat from the firm Candela will ferry hydropower workers across Lake Manapōuri in New Zealand (courtesy of Meridian Energy).

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