Auckland Welcomes Sparky, World’s First Full-Size Electric Tug Boat

The world’s first full-size electric tug boat is now in service in Auckland, New Zealand. It is called Sparky, which was the first choice in an online naming contest. The Ports Of Auckland has a goal of being carbon neutral by 2040. That’s a challenge because port operations rely almost exclusively on diesel engines. They are in the cranes that load and unload cargo containers, the tractors that move those containers around inside the port facility, and the tug boats that help maneuver ships within the harbor.

Officially, Sparky is a Damen RSD-E Tug 2513. It is 24.73 (80 feet) long and a draft of 6 meters (19.5 feet). It features two azimuth thrusters with 3-meter (10 foot) diameter propellers. Sparky has a 70-ton bollard pull — the same as the port’s strongest diesel tug. Below, there are 80 battery racks with a total of 2,784 kWh of power. Sparky can perform up to four shipping moves on a single charge of batteries. Recharge time is approximately two hours.

Sparky is expected to save 465 tons of carbon dioxide each year. The electricity needed to power the electric tug boat will cost about a third as much as the diesel fuel that a conventional tug would require. Sparky also has two 1000 kW backup generators which will only be used in case of emergency or some fault that is not part of business as usual. It is expected they will be pressed into service only once or twice a year.

Allan D’Souza, a general manager at the port, said in a press release, “Back in 2016, when we first pitched the idea for a fully electric tug, we were told we were dreaming. To see Sparky in real life like this is that dream coming true. Due to the pandemic, we were unable to travel so we’ve been watching the build, launch and initial sea trials online. To welcome her to Tāmaki Makaurau now is incredible. You’ll be able to spot Sparky on the water as her superstructure is painted bright green, unlike our diesel tugs. What you won’t notice is noise or smoke. Being electric, she’s a lot quieter, and cleaner than our current diesel tugs.”

“Welcoming Sparky is an exciting day for us at the port,” says Roger Gray, CEO of Ports of Auckland. “Sparky is the first e-tug of its type in the world and was a truly innovative project for us. Her arrival marks a big step towards the ports’ decarbonization of operations and towards our long term emissions reduction goals. I would like to thank the ports’ Marine team and acknowledge our partner Damen for their work. When the project started there were no emissions-free ship handling options around. However, Damen were up for the challenge and now they’ve changed the game with our e-tug Sparky. E-tugs are the future for ship handling and Ports of Auckland are proud to have led the way.”

Little by little, bit by bit, electrification is coming to all manner of transportation modes, from cargo trucks to farm tractors. Electric vehicles are simply more efficient, which makes them less expensive to operate and maintain — two factors that endear them to commercial operators. We can expect to see more electric tug boats in the future in ports throughout the world.


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