Known for the breathtaking fjords that pepper its coasts, Norway is a country that runs on ferries: Hundreds links isolated fjord towns and islands with the mainland. But despite the country’s famed commitment to environmentalism, ferries can be a dirty business. A single ferry serving the route between western Norwegian towns towns Lavik and Oppedal, for example, burns through 1 million liters of diesel per year, churning out 570 metric tons of carbon dioxide and 15 metric tons of nitrogen oxides as well.
Starting in 2015, that ferry will be the first to be replaced with an electric one— designed by Siemens as the world’s first electrically powered car ferry. If successful, the technology has the potential to be replicated across Norway, replacing all ferries used for trips a half hour and under.
The new design is a catamaran, engineered to minimize water resistance and weigh less than a typical vessel. The result is that its electric motor needs nearly half the power of the engine on the heavier, more resistant diesel-engine ferries. And, according to Siemens, “the crucial feature of the new ferry is that it only takes 10 minutes to recharge the batteries” that power the motor. Batteries waiting at either port quickly recharge the ferry between trips, and slowly regain power from the small village’s local grid while the ship is at sea.
The irony of such a clean ferry? That it’s just enabling more gas-guzzling cars to get from point A to point B.