Electric shipping market could reach $20bn by 2027, research suggests

New research estimates that the global market for electric and hybrid shipping will rise to $20bn in a decade, as the world's first self-sufficient boat powered by 100% renewable energy prepares for a six-year trip around the world.

Analysts at market research firm IDTechEx have examined the shipping industry, highlighting the emerging profitability of hybrid and pure electric boats and ships.

According to the research, owners of industrial and commercial seagoing craft will be forced to clean up rapidly by 2027 due to huge environmental pressures. The electric and hybrid market, currently accounting for around only 1-2% of industry sales, will rise dramatically due to cheap electricity and increased reliability, researchers suggest.

The steady improvement in battery performance and price will reportedly drive demand upwards as will faster charging. The research highlights a potential for electric outboard meters sales to significantly increase as they become more affordable and more energy harvesting is provided on the craft to charge the batteries.

‘Incredible vessel’

With shipping’s emissions forecast to rise to nearly 17% of the world’s total over the next 30 years if left unregulated, the sector will require innovative solutions to shift the industry towards a sustainable trajectory.

A pioneering example of this type of innovation was announced earlier this week, with the world’s first emission-free boat preparing to set off on a six-year voyage this spring. Deemed the Solar Impulse 2 of the seas, the Energy Observer, a former race boat now equipped with solar panels, wind turbines and hydrogen fuel cells, will use 100% clean energy to power its batteries.

The $5.25m boat converts seawater into hydrogen fuel using a chemical process called electrolysis. Skippers Frédéric Dahirel and Victorien Erussard will steer the vessel from a French shipyard in Brittany to Paris in February for the first of 101 destinations in 50 countries.

“I’m passionate about new technologies,” Erussard said. “Building a self-sufficient boat could have seemed [unrealistic], but this is going to be an incredible vessel. It’s very promising for the future.”

Sailing ahead

In October, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) approved a roadmap through to 2023 on the global adoption on an emissions reduction strategy, scheduled to come into force in 2018; although the Organisation has been criticised over delaying action. Just one day earlier, 170 countries agreed on a new global deal to introduce a cap on sulphur emissions in 2020.

A concerted effort from businesses across this sector has been taken to ignite a low-carbon transition. Japanese organisation Peace Boat is about to introduce its Ecoship design, which could cut carbon emissions from cruise voyages by 40%. The concept was originally unveiled at COP21, when the world’s largest solar boat played host to six environmental conferences and events during the conference.

George Ogleby

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