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How to de-risk new, greener marine technologies using a digital twin

Updated: May 26

The marine sector lags far behind other transportation sectors when it comes to implementing greener technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Because marine infrastructure is relatively expensive and the life of each vessel can be 40 years or more, stakeholders are understandably slower to adopt new technologies. But with an urgent need to decarbonize in the marine industry, how can operators accelerate the implementation of newer technologies such as all-electric vessels?

When attempting to add new innovative marine transportation offerings to complement an established maritime operation, the challenges go beyond the electric vessel technology itself. Current marine infrastructure and schedules are designed around ships that use diesel fuel which can bunker when it’s convenient to do so – every week or so; electric vessels on the other hand must have convenient access to charging stations so they can charge on every trip, with the location and type of shore charging stations informing the initial design of the vessel. All-electric ship operations involve a multitude of co-dependent parameters that differ from a traditional operation.

Decision-makers in this domain such as funders and harbour authorities currently lack a comprehensive tool to understand the day-to-day and overall performance of electric ship operations – leaving them at risk of making decisions without exploring all possible options.

Digital twin for the win

An invaluable tool for designing a successful all-electric ferry service is a full virtual simulation, or a digital twin, to help evaluate the logistical, financial, and environmental performance of electric ships.

The digital twin is a detailed, dynamic virtual model that mirrors the characteristics of a proposed real-world service. This tool demonstrates the operational possibilities and limits of both physical assets (such as ships, terminals, and charging systems) and real-world dynamics (such as ridership demand, navigational constraints, and utility providers’ charging rates). A digital twin integrates some or all of the following models into an overall simulation of the service:

  • Vessel Design.  Each vessel design has different implications for speed and performance, passenger behaviours, and scheduling. 

  • Charging Model.  A charging model defines the shore side power and energy requirements needed from the utility provider. It is dependent on the powering needs of the vessel, vessel schedule, berthing availability, grid capacity, battery types, and charging infrastructure. 

  • Ridership Model.  A ridership model determines the customer demand and expected fare-paying passengers. By obtaining real-world data, the model can integrate knowledge of the complete end-to-end journeys that potential customers are currently making, thereby ensuring the service is well aligned with the ebbs and flows of origin-destination travel patterns. 

  • Voyage Model.  A voyage model helps to explore dynamic voyage parameters between intended terminal locations. It looks at the target route, weather impacts, and routing alternatives, to simulate realistic operational scenarios.

  • Financial Model.  The financial model incorporates economic factors, incentive structures (such as carbon offsets), capital costs, operational costs, and revenue streams associated with a marine operation. 

By seamlessly integrating the listed models for all relevant parameters into one digital system, inputs can be modified to compare and evaluate the ferry service outputs. Physical operations can be visually represented, thereby providing an understanding of the physical, logistical, environmental, and financial performance of the service.

A digital twin platform provides a relatively low-cost way to model the effects of different decisions, ultimately avoiding costly mistakes with a new all-electric ferry service. Overall, the tool enables informed decision-making about an implementation of a new marine technology and significantly de-risks its implementation.

Greenline’s digital twin for all-electric ferries

Greenline Marine has developed a digital twin specifically tailored for operators of new all-electric ferry services. The digital twin has two unique features that provide operators with crucial information for implementing these new technologies:

  • Integration and optimization of all-electric ferry parameters. The first main feature of the digital twin is its seamless integration of existing models for vessel and shore infrastructure design, charging systems, ridership patterns, voyage dynamics, and financial considerations into one digital system. This allows operators to adjust one input and observe all the downstream effects. This provides a clear demonstration of what happens when different design aspects of the vessel (for example, hull material and shape) are implemented, so that decision makers need not rely on trial-and-error when deciding on these features. Instead, they have a tool that helps them choose the design features that ensure the most successful overall deployment of the technology.

  • Visualization of proposed ferry operations. The second main feature is a visual environment that shows the proposed operation – in essence, a virtual reality space where people can see and interact with the service. This enables stakeholders to envision what the service will look like and to elicit valuable feedback from groups such as operators and potential riders (including riders with mobility challenges). The feedback can help shape the service before it begins to ensure it has the best chance of meeting everyone’s needs, avoiding bad press and expensive changes after the service launches. Overall, this feature saves time and money during service planning by allowing diverse stakeholders, including engineers, managers, and non-technical stakeholders, to collaborate and communicate effectively.

Greenline’s tool supports vessel demonstration of low and/or zero emission technologies by reducing a large portion of the guesswork in implementing such technologies and helping decision makers hone the features that will make the technology suitable for its particular real-world context.

This digital twin can help conclusively identify the best locations for new terminals, the optimal schedules, the required mitigation plans, and more. This tool from Greenline de-risks the venture and supports decision makers by providing a clear, accurate representation of the performance of a new all-electric passenger ferry service over time.

Better service implementation on the horizon

Coastal communities around the world are searching for ways to move beyond carbon-emitting marine infrastructure. But many companies considering radical technological shifts face the same barriers: difficulty adapting the technology to its local context to ensure success, and an inability to visualize the service and thereby understand how it would differ from the alternatives. A widely accessible marine-technology-specific digital simulation app helps overcome both of these barriers. It also makes clear the kinds of inefficiencies that exist in the status quo infrastructure, which are becoming less and less acceptable.

Besides operators, other organizations in the marine industry that could see benefit from Greenline’s digital twin include:

  • Community leaders who need to decide whether a new marine-related venture fits their community or not.

  • Harbour authorities who need to decide on the allocation of berth space.

  • Funders who need to make investment decisions about ships and terminals.

  • Indigenous Peoples who need to evaluate the impact and value of transit through territorial waters.

  • Governments that need to decide on the requirements for grants or subsidies.

  • Approval agencies that need to understand the environmental costs and benefits of new technologies.

With Greenline’s current comprehensive simulation tool, organizations can better understand, optimize, and de-risk their own specific technological transitions.

The need to reduce carbon emissions in the marine industry is more pressing than ever and the deployment of zero-emissions vessels is within reach. Technological change in the marine industry occurs slowly, and not every attempt to deploy new technologies has proven successful in the past. Physical assets such as electric ships and charging systems are an important part of the solution, but can only deliver on their full potential when they are carefully configured and optimized for specific parameters of service. Greenline’s digital twin, specific to the maritime industry, simulates the operation of a new technology in a specific context, identifying strengths and weaknesses of a service before significant resources are put toward implementation. Ultimately, the digital twin helps decision makers have confidence that they’re advancing the right technologies in the right times and places.

If you've got a project that can be supported by a digital twin, please contact our team, and let's make it happen:

Callum Campbell, P.Eng, MBA




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