Electrical engineering’s role in designing sustainable ships

With the impacts of global warming becoming ever more apparent, the urgency of making the transition to zero-emissions energy sources is increasingly important. Like other transport industries the shipping sector is under pressure to make the switch to vessels that can operate at current levels of performance while emitting little or no greenhouse gases.

Scrapping the entire global fleet and starting afresh is of course not an option, so the pathway to meeting the new standards that are now coming into effect will require a mix of new builds and refits in order to meet the challenging targets.

The dominant technologies are as yet uncertain, but two elements of the transition are standing out. The electrification of elements of ships will play an important role and become increasingly attractive and affordable for shipowners. With a large number of energy sources being considered and the final choices still uncertain, energy installations being installed from now on will need to be adaptable and future proof. At present, it is the operational profile of each vessel type that is the key determinant to which solution is selected.

Electrification is key to clean, dependable energy

Whatever the energy source, to become more sustainable, energy needs to be converted into electricity. Therefore, determining energy conservation and distribution is critical for maximizing efficiency. This is best achieved via fully electric platforms as these deliver the best results in greater autonomy, flexibility, and reliability. The automation of processes wherever possible plays a major role in delivering maximum levels of efficiency and safety.

Maximum electrification also has a significant impact on the total lifetime costs of a vessel. On average, operations account for 95% of the total lifetime costs of a vessel.

Investing in energy conversion and energy storage can reduce those costs by stabilizing the primary power source and by delivering an additional source of stable power when required. Control of all of these systems require a reliable automation platform. An electrical platform is best for these situations, especially in combination with a fast-reacting energy system that can both absorb and release energy, thereby ensuring an uninterrupted and stable power supply.

Multi-disciplinary teams for the best solutions

Designing the energy system for a particular vessel requires finding an optimum combination of technologies that best matches the demands of its operational profile. At C-Job our multi-disciplinary teams bring together both mechanical and electronic skills, and in-depth knowledge of future fuel technologies including hybrid systems.

With the starting point of each project being the operational profile, the electrical engineers within each team apply their knowledge to design well balanced electrical platforms that are optimized to meet both the primary energy source capabilities as well as the mechanical and electrical demands of the ship’s systems. Our work in this area has confirmed that electric propulsion systems are reliable, sustainable and cost effective, and that the distribution of electrical power is best done by DC platforms so as to accommodate all the different potential energy sources.

Learning through experience

Further insights that our team has gained include confirmation that the most flexible power solutions are delivered by integrated, fully electric, power and propulsion technologies. Electricity grids are exceptionally adaptable and electrically powered vessels are as equally effective in lower voltage commercial and security roles as they are in larger, high voltage combat ships. Both have the capacity to integrate power for propulsion and all the other onboard equipment into a single system.

For hybrid systems based on gas turbines or diesel engines where the power source used depends on the speed required, we can offer hybrid electric solutions that are available in gear-mounted or direct-drive, shaft-mounted electric motor designs. Where the space available with a vessel is limited, compact, transformerless drives are ideal. Hybrid technologies can also offer the best in low noise performance while also enhancing the ship’s fuel efficiency.

Your partner for the energy transition

As the decarbonization of the global maritime fleet gathers pace, owners and operators find themselves facing many choices with no certainty as what fuels and technologies will end up being the most effective and economical. However, while internal combustion engines may have some years ahead of them burning low-carbon fuels, all the energy sources are likely to share a single purpose, to generate electricity which will then power every aspect of a vessel’s operations. At C-Job our multi-disciplinary teams work with clients to find the solutions not just for now but for the future as well.