Following on from the installation of the UK’s first marine charging network in Plymouth to support electric vessels, Aqua superPower has announced that it is leading a consortium which has secured UK government funding to explore the development of a UK demonstrator of bi-directional boat charging.
The Virtual Bunkering for Electric Vessels (VBEV) project brings together two leading UK businesses, with electric boat charging operator Aqua superPower and pioneering British bi-directional charging and smart energy technology company, Indra. Plus, independent, low emission transport experts Cenex and the University of Plymouth.
The consortium will carry out a feasibility study to determine the financial, technical and operational business case for the deployment of bi-directional charging infrastructure in the marine sector. The study will also evaluate the environmental benefit, ultimately preparing the ground for a UK demonstrator of bi-directional boat charging.
The VBEV project will focus on emergent bi-directional charging technology developed, demonstrated and in early release for road vehicles based on Indra’s experience of pioneering vehicle-to-grid (V2G) and vehicle-to-everything (V2X) product development.
This game-changing technology has already demonstrated that it can effectively enable electric vehicle (EV) drivers to reduce their energy costs and cut carbon by accessing greater levels of renewable technology at off-peak periods and discharge energy when needed.
This is an exciting development and bidirectional charging could essentially turn boats into mobile battery storage units. This will save money and be kinder to the planet.
The core benefit of the bi-directional charging capability is its ability to access and store greener energy for later use. Indra’s innovative technology forms the foundation for the project’s marine application, adding the marine requirements for near-shore and inland marine vessels, using Aqua’s knowledge as an electric charge point operator (CPO) in the marine sector.
The VBEV project is part of the Clean Maritime Demonstration Competition Round 2 (CMDC2) which was launched in May 2022. It is funded by the Department for Transport and delivered in partnership with Innovate UK. This is a disruptive innovation opportunity led by UK businesses that could reduce UK marina CO2 emissions by four million tonnes per year.
The University of Plymouth led the previous CMDC project – the Marine E-charging Living Lab (MeLL) – and will bring expertise and academic links into the technical aspects of this project. This includes battery degradation for marine operations.
The University will also play a key role with stakeholder/advisory board’s engagement. Cenex will develop the bi-directional charger value case and identify vessel archetypes most suited to the innovative technology. The technical approach to this project has been developed by the diverse consortium partnership, combining their technical, business, operational and environmental expertise.
Virtual bunkering enables the aggregation of electric boat batteries to provide energy storage and grid support services when not being used for propulsion. With the transition to electrically powered vessels, there will be a requirement for deploying charging infrastructure across marinas and harbours. Affordability of grid connections, high capital costs and battery health pose challenges to deployment.
This project will develop solutions to resolve these barriers by enabling existing electric boats to support the charging infrastructure without the need for expensive grid upgrades. It will do this by providing a virtual electricity bunker service, delivering managed battery conditioning support and enabling additional revenue generation for boat owners.
Alex Bamberg, Aqua superPower CEO, said: “We are proud to have been successful in winning our second Clean Maritime Demonstration Competition project, which is evidence of Aqua superPower’s marine charging expertise and industry authority.
“As project lead, we look forward to working with our highly experienced consortium partners towards decarbonising the marine sector and to accelerate the transition to clean alternative propulsion systems.”
Mike Schooling, Indra founder and CTO, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for us to demonstrate the exciting potential that bidirectional charging could bring to the marine sector, essentially turning ships into mobile battery storage units to help save money, carbon and the planet.”
Matt Knight, Cenex Hardware Trials & Data Integration Lead, said: “Cenex has researched the benefits and applications of bi-directional charging in the automotive industry for the last six years and we’re excited to see the technology applied to electric boats in coastal regions where it could have a real environmental and economic impact.”
Aqua Superpower will be responsible for the overall management of the project. As a leader in the network deployment of electric charging networks and installations (UK and internationally), Aqua superPower will be responsible for developing a commercial business case for the deployment of bi-directional charging and designing a demonstration plan for the technology.
Sarah Fear, Project and Knowledge Exchange Manager at the University of Plymouth, said: “This project builds on our existing collaborative work to reduce the maritime industry’s impact on the environment. It enables us to advance our research into cutting edge innovation that can support the shift to clean maritime and reaffirms Plymouth’s place at the heart of this exciting and emerging sector.”
Aqua brings extensive network, operational and management experience, from backgrounds including vehicle charging and being part of the UK’s first marine charging network in Plymouth under the MeLL project.
The four partners will engage with electric boat builders, marina operators, the local and national grid as well as representatives of boat users to develop a detailed business case. Together they will plan for the world first demonstrator of Virtual Bunkering for Electric Vessels using bi-directional chargers.
Delivery of these innovative actions will be a significant step toward helping the marine sector to realise greater benefit from the transition to alternative propulsion vessels, maximising C02 savings, reducing costs and improving operation.
Back in October, Indra announced the results from the first-ever NHS project to use pioneering V2G technology using electric vehicles. The project was held in partnership with Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT) and Hitachi Energy Business Incubation.
The two-year study, which ended in June 2022, explored the potential cost savings and added benefits of V2G charging for commercial fleets. The trial involved five Hitachi-branded V2G units at sites across Withington Community Hospital and Trafford General Hospital. Indra designed, built and installed the units and provided maintenance and data acquisition support for the study.