STOCKHOLM — On a typical weekday morning, the main bridge out of the island town of Ekerö is thick with cars headed to the Swedish capital. A long queue snakes back from the last set of traffic lights at the edge of town.
But at the public jetty adjacent to the bridge, all is quiet. The next ferry won’t come for another 52 minutes and besides, most people prefer the comfort of their own car.
That’s something Stockholm-based startup Candela hopes to change.
Its plan for a super-fast electric ferry service linking the Swedish capital with a series of nearby islands — Ekerö is the last stop on the test route — would significantly cut commuters’ travel time and could attract people tired of the bumper-to-bumper journey.
Renderings by Candela show the new ferry — called the P-12 — would be a radical departure from the big, slow, diesel-powered vessels currently plying the archipelago around Stockholm, which sits between a large inland lake and the Baltic Sea.
The hydrofoil craft deploys two underwater wings to lift the vessel out of the water reducing drag and producing virtually no wake, which would exempt it from Stockholm’s tight speed limits.
It also uses electric motors, so is zero-emission.
That fits with Sweden’s ambition to cut transport sector emissions — which account for a third of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions — by 70 percent by 2030. The strategy relies heavily on a shift to renewable fuels and electrification.
“This kind of technology could be a game changer when it comes to public transport on water,” said Gustav Hemming, a local lawmaker for the Stockholm region with responsibility for ferries. “The new technology means higher speeds and shorter travel times, which could make waterborne public transport the most competitive travel option across a lot of our region.”
Tesla of the seas?
Candela, which is already competing with rivals on the leisure boat market, hopes to tap into a growing appetite for greener ferries.
Battery-powered ferries have been launched in the Norwegian capital Oslo and Amsterdam has plans for a similar shift. Electric ferries are also sailing in Bangkok and a 1,300-passenger electric cruise ship is running in Yichang, China.
The major challenge facing all electric boat makers — and city authorities — is range.
Candela’s ferry offers a potential answer: Its hydrofoil design reduces drag, meaning its electric engines need about 80 percent less power than the fossil fuel equivalent.
The company claims the new ferry in the Ekerö pilot project will be able to travel around 100 kilometers on one charge while still achieving speeds of 50 kilometers per hour.
The company plans for the test ferry to sail twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon and charge its batteries at lunchtime. Candela’s forecasts claim the travel time from Ekerö to Stockholm city center will be around 25 minutes, half that of the current car journey.
It will also make smaller 30-seat ferries to allow for more rapid production and more flexible deployment. Smaller ferries can also dock and depart more quickly and be sailed by a wider pool of staff, as larger ships demand more highly qualified captains.
The pilot scheme is expected to start next spring and run over four years at a cost of around €1.9 million, with around 45 percent of the funding coming from the Swedish Transport Administration and 55 percent from Candela.
But Candela still faces a number of challenges. For one, the ferries haven’t been built yet.
Candela’s project team has been working over recent months to establish the new ferry’s product specifications and make it sure it follows the relevant Swedish and global regulations, said Erik Eklund, head of Candela’s commercial vehicles unit.
The company’s first P-12 should be in the water by the end of the year, Eklund said. It will then be tested for several months while the company applies for a certificate to carry passengers.
Eklund said the company is confident “that the technology is mature” and expects to meet the deadline as much of the engineering behind the P-12 has already been tested in Candela’s two leisure boats, the C-7 and the C-8.
On a recent weekday, during a test drive of the C-8 speedboat, the same electric motor that will power the P-12 quickly took the boat to cruising speed while the underwater wings lifted it clear of the water’s surface.
The speedboat remained steady while cutting through the wake of a diesel ferry heading out to the archipelago.