The government will design its own electric ferries and pay four ferry companies $350 million to have them built, aiming to launch the first vessels by 2023, the environment secretary told LegCo today.
Wong Kam-sing says the government has already hired a consultant to design the ferries and charging stations, telling lawmakers a bespoke design was required due to “limited application of electric ferries globally at the moment”.
Wong says the consultant has already sketched out preliminary designs, which will be assessed by an expert group including a local naval architect and academics, as well as members of an inter-departmental working group. When the designs are finished, companies will be able to tender out for their construction, with the total cost funded by the pilot scheme.
The government has chosen four routes for the two year trial: Star Ferry’s Central to Tsim Sha Tsui; Sun Ferry’s North Point to Hung Hom; Coral Sea’s Sai Wan Ho to Kwun Tong; and Fortune Ferry Company’s so-called “water taxi”, which makes a weekly circuit including Kai Tak, Hung Hom, Tsim Sha Tsui, Central and West Kowloon.
As with the New Energy Transport Fund, the ferry companies will be required to keep detailed records of the operation of the new electric ferries and make regular public reports.
The Environment Bureau did not answer questions on why the government had chosen a bespoke design.
A 2017 study conducted for the government concluded electric ferries were only suitable for in-harbour ferry routes operating at shorter sailing distance and lower speed.
In fact, while the government says there are no suitable ferries on the market, shipbuilders have improved electric ferry range and speed by leaps and bounds in the last few years. In Norway, the carbon fibre Rygerelektra can cruise 93 km at 17 knots (31.4 kph) on 70% of its 2MWh battery capacity, all while carrying 297 passengers. Rygerelektra’s range means it could run around 45 round-trips across Victoria Harbour on one charge.
“This vessel is breaking barriers for environmentally conscious transportation and serves as a testament to what is possible with all-electric propulsion,” says its maker Brødrene Aa.
Hong Kong has dabbled with new energy ferries, currently trialling a diesel-electric ferry for Star Ferry’s Wan Chai to Central route. BUt that ferry has proved a disappointment in terms of operation and pollution, creating around the same carbon emissions as its diesel sisters.