Even governors, it seems, have electric tug boat dreams.
Two years ago, we began work on an early-stage, cross-platform electric propulsion project for the Maine State fishing fleet. Details are still hush-hush. We can’t spill the beans on our electric lobster boat just yet. But our discretion has not stopped us from tracking alternative powerplants in other boats since. One of the most intriguing — and frustrating — is the 2014 electric repowering of this classic 1928 canal tug, pictured above, by New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
And the installation pictured above looked like good work, at least to start: low-cost batteries, a single electric drive, and a clean layout. But the more we’ve sat with this project, the more we realized that when it comes to an all-around work craft, a strictly all-electric tug is far from electrifying.
Thin Was In:
What Andy Cuomo missed with this electric dreamboat is that there’s nothing new about electric work boats. In fact, for a brief time in the late 19th-century, electric-driven boats were the norm, not the exception. Electricity offered tons of power at all speeds. There was no smoke. No fuel to explode.
The key to the electric boat’s success was, and is, hull efficiency: The longer and narrower, the easier it is to push through the water. The current electric boat distance world record holder, from the Thames Electric Launch Company, went 137 miles in 30 hours on one battery charge. And it was based on the Thames River launches Henry the VIIIth used to visit his wives.
Compare that elegant sliver of a workboat to the hard core tug Andy Cuomo tried to electrify: It’s a classic little tough guy, this work tug: Plumb bow and plenty of room for hauling. But it’s also short and wide, and needs lots of muscle to push through the water. Meaning, an all-battery system will quickly run flat.
The better option is a hybrid powerplant that matches internal combustion and electric hybrid drives. A small internal combustion engine does the basic maneuvering and long-haul puttering. It’s cheaper and it saves the electric power for the bigger work of pushing and shoving. That’s when we would fire up a high-torque electric motor. Such hybrid systems are well tested. We’re impressed by a hybrid drive technology from an Italian firm called Transfluid. And we expect to see more hybrid tools coming out of the Electric & Hybrid Marine World Expo, later this year as more European harbors and lakes limit the use of internal combustion engines.
Cuomo’s Tug Blunder:
Cuomo made the classic politician’s mistake with his all-electric tug dream. He wanted to make a statement, not solve a problem. And that, friends, muddied the design brief for this project and forced otherwise-talented designers and consultants, like Elco, to create the hardly ideal all-electric work craft. A far better use of Cuomo’s vision and power, it seems to us, would have been starting the difficult discussion of banning internal combustion engines entirely from New York’s harbors. It would have been a nearly impossible political river to cross. But at least
Cuomo would have driven a reasonable discussion about electric boats in the workplace.
Instead, all this lovely, all-electric tug probably does best is drive politicians around dirty canals.