Owners must cherry-pick best solutions to save fuel: The Switch

Drive train specialist says existing innovations can radically transform efficiency when used together.

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Updated on 19 Dec 2017 11:54 GMT

The Switch, a provider of advanced drive train technology, says the maritime industry must adopt a realistic approach to the challenge of sustainable shipping, piecing together individual technologies to create efficient vessels that are greater than the sum of their parts.

"There's no simple 'off the shelf' complete solution," the company says, stressing that there is a wealth of existing innovations and systems that can radically transform the industry's environmental performance when used together.

"Stricter regulations, greater environmental awareness and the imperative to control operating costs in increasingly tight markets are key drivers for an industry that must optimize operational efficiency," remarked Mika Koli, Business Development Manager at The Switch. "But at the same time, it's unrealistic to think this can happen with one 'big idea' or technological breakthrough. What shipowners need to do is future-proof new and existing vessels by making smart choices - by seeing what is available and then putting the pieces of the puzzle together."

Koli noted: "There are some game-changers already on the market. Technologies that are fundamentally simple, energy efficient and can greatly reduce the life-cycle costs and emissions of the world fleet. Of those, we believe hybrid solutions, DC networks and permanent magnet (PM) driven contra-rotating propulsors are among the most compelling solutions available."

Targeting growth

The Switch is part of the EUR 3.6 billion turnover Yaskawa Electric Corporation. Since entering the marine segment, it has received more than 30 orders for its permanent magnet shaft generator technology.

The Switch has been serving the marine segment since 2013, acquiring Norway's Wartsila Drives in November 2016 to boost its proposition. The advanced drive train expertise of the Finnish-headquartered firm has seen it build an installed base of over 13 GW of megawatt-class PM machine and converter packages, with a leading position in the wind arena.

The Switch is now targeting growth of 200 percent over the next five years in marine.

"We are committed to helping the industry become more sustainable, both commercially and environmentally while ensuring our customers meet regulatory and societal demands. Our products are tailor-made for this mission," Koli said.

Key concepts

Three concepts sit at the heart of The Switch's marine business. Its PM shaft generators can be used to create cost-effective electricity and save fuel - with large merchant vessels potentially consuming less energy during slow steaming. Meanwhile, its compact, lightweight DC-Hub allows vessel generators to run at optimal efficiency, with batteries taking the strain of load changes, thus significantly reducing fuel consumption. In addition, its DC nature allows batteries to be utilized as stand-by power sources, enabling generators to be switched off entirely. Fewer conversions are also needed, meaning less lost energy.

Koli expects to see these technologies become more widespread throughout the industry.

The last piece in The Switch's offering is an integrated electric propulsor - a unit that combines the hydrodynamic expertise from Steerprop with the permanent magnet motor advantages from The Switch for 3.5 MW to 20 MW and beyond.

"These units are small, easy to fit and maintain - sitting inside the vessel hull - and, thanks to the PM technology, provide increased efficiency and lower operational cost. The hydrodynamic efficiency of the propeller alone is capable of delivering up to 25 percent less fuel consumption than single propeller, traditional electric alternatives, while our PM motor gives optimal efficiency throughout the entire speed rang," Koli said.

"Seen on their own, such innovations are impressive, but when pieced together, and seen in the context of this industry's demands, they become not just important, but necessary. It's up to us, and other green suppliers worldwide, to get that message out to shipowners. We can help them chart the best course towards truly sustainable shipping," Koli added.