British Columbia

BC Ferries launching first wave of hybrid electric vessels

New hybrid boats will service short island routes by 2020, and the company is planning to replace all ships with hybrid vessels that can run entirely on electricity once terminals are equipped with charging infrastructure.

CEO says company planning to eventually switch entire fleet to electric power

BC Ferries passengers travelling on shorter island routes could be riding on hybrid electric boats as early as next year. (BC Ferries)

BC Ferries passengers travelling on shorter island routes could be riding on hybrid electric boats as early as next year.

The six new vessels, known as Island Class ferries, use diesel fuel to generate electricity that is stored in batteries on board and they are all expected to be in operation by 2022, with the first two expected to be in service in 2020.

The first two boats to launch will run between Powell River and Texada Island and from Port McNeill to Alert Bay and Malcolm Island. The next four will be in the water by 2022 and will run between Campbell River and Quadra Island and between Nanaimo and Gabriola Island.

According to BC Ferries CEO Mark Collins, the boats are just the beginning of a long-term plan to have the company's entire fleet powered by electricity, including the longer routes between Vancouver Island and the mainland.

"They're designed to go full electric when the shore infrastructure permits," said Collins in a phone interview with CBC's On The Island Tuesday.

"Perhaps a better way to look at them is to say these are all electric ferries in which we have temporarily installed a hybrid system," he said.

The Earl's Cove Ferry terminal on B.C.'s Sunshine Coast. BC Ferries is currently working with BC Hydro to figure out how best to install charging technology at terminals for electric ships. (Denis Dossman/CBC)

Collins said BC Ferries is working with BC Hydro to determine the best way to install charging equipment at terminals, so eventually the vessels can plug in and recharge between runs.

"There's no standard technology out there as of yet for this kind of plug-in technology. So, we're studying that closely and seeing which way this will go," said Collins.

And Collins doesn't think it will happen quickly, especially on the routes with the biggest ships, such as between Nanaimo and Horseshoe Bay. 

"I do need to caution that is still some years down the road, because much of the shore infrastructure is not in place for that scale yet," he said."But the real win for us is reducing the emissions from our ships."

Collins said BC Ferries has invested more than $500 million in low-carbon technologies in the past five years and is aiming for a future where the company has a net zero carbon footprint.

To hear the complete interview with Mark Collins, see the audio link below:

With files from On The Island