Sydney told to embrace ‘greener future’ with electric ferries

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The NSW government has announced it will review how to reduce Sydney’s ferry emissions, despite weeks earlier announcing it would purchase seven new diesel vessels for the Circular Quay to Parramatta route.

The push to reduce emissions in the transport sector – the second-largest contributor of NSW greenhouse gas emissions – is an issue the government will need to address quickly as it seeks to hit bold targets with the possibility of coal-fired power stations remaining open.

A mock-up of an electric ferry, designed by EV Maritime, that could help NSW lower its emissions. Credit: EV Maritime

The strategic review will look into vessel infrastructure electrification requirements and the availability and location of other low-emission fuel sources, including hydrogen, according to information obtained in Parliamentary Questions on Notice released earlier this month.

Michael Eaglen, chief executive of EV Maritime (a marine technology and consulting business focusing on decarbonising the global inshore maritime sector) said the review was a welcome step, but failure to decarbonise the sector would see Sydney fall behind.

“Sydney can embrace a greener future,” he said. “It is a big project to electrify ferries, there is a lot involved and it is important to do it right so that you are still delivering reliable services to the commuting public.

“It is something that needs to be started now and then managed responsibly and carefully.”

The company’s road map towards decarbonisation, released on Wednesday, found that the F1 ferry – between Manly and Circular Quay – emits the highest portion of emissions per year at about 38.1 per cent, while the F3 service between Parramatta and Circular Quay emits the second highest at 26.7 per cent.

The lowest emitting service is the F10 ferry from Blackwattle Bay to the city, producing just 0.3 per cent each year.

EV Maritime is currently working with the New Zealand government to build fully electric, 200-passenger fast ferries, known as EVM200, as part of a $34 million contract.

Eaglen said the New Zealand ferries could be rolled out in Sydney, which would allow the city to reduce air pollution, combat climate change and create a sustainable transport system.

“It is important Sydney is not left behind,” he said.

Last month, the government announced it would invest in seven new ferries to replace the Australian-built RiverCat ferries, which have served the Parramatta River route since 1992. The older ferries have been plagued with issues, including asbestos in the boats and not being able to fit under some bridges with passengers on the top deck.

The new ferries will use 40 per cent less diesel and are capable of being transitioned to hybrid or electric propulsion over time. Ferry engines are usually replaced after five years of service, providing opportunities to make these upgrades during the 25-30 year working life of the Parramatta Class ferries.

Transport for NSW is investigating more sustainable methods to power Sydney’s transport system, said a spokesperson for Transport Minister Jo Haylen. This includes the 8000 buses across NSW that the government is transitioning to zero-emission technology.

“The new vessel design is also future-proofed for conversion to electric propulsion when the network infrastructure is ready,” the spokesperson said. “This conversion will also require planning for new onshore infrastructure, including the placement of charging stations at selected docking wharves.”

The spokesperson added that under the previous government, the planned rollout to convert the state’s buses to electric vehicles by 2030 fell 17 years behind schedule.

“Of the 8000 buses in our fleet, 112 zero-emissions buses currently operate throughout Greater Sydney,” the spokesperson said. “When our fleet of buses has fully transitioned to zero-emission buses, we estimate our carbon emissions will be reduced by 509,000 tonnes a year. This is the same amount of carbon emissions generated annually by more than 391,000 new cars in Sydney.”

It comes as the government races to meet its emission reduction target of 70 per cent by 2035. Environment Minister Penny Sharpe previously said she wanted to legislate emission reduction targets and establish a net-zero commission.

The commission will develop the government’s plan to get to net-zero emissions by 2050. It will monitor and review the plan and its trajectory, including impacts on jobs and industry, as well as energy prices. Lastly, she aims to establish an energy security corporation, a publicly owned company that will accelerate renewable energy production.

Sharpe did not respond to a request for comment.

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