Auckland, New Zealand: Meet Sparky, The World’s First Full-Size Electric Tugboat

Ports of Auckland – New Zealand’s primary port – now has the world’s first full-size, ship-handling electric tugboat. Named Sparky, the e-tug is expected to save approximately 465 tonnes of CO2 in diesel emissions annually. Sparky – a Damen RSD-E Tug 2513 – was constructed by the Dutch company Damen Shipyards Group.

“In 2016 we set ourselves the goal of being zero-emission by 2040,” said Tony Gibson, CEO, Ports of Auckland. “We set this goal because we recognize that urgent action is needed on climate change, and we wanted to be part of the solution. However, setting that goal created a tough challenge. We have a lot of heavy equipment, like tugs, and in 2016 there were no zero-emission options.”

Sparky’s 80 battery racks hold 2,240 batteries, totaling 2,784 kWh of power that can then can run up to four shipping moves on one charge (about three to four hours of operation.) It has a recharge time of approximately two hours. For safety, Sparky also has two 1000kW backup generator sets, which would only be used in cases of emergency. Sparky’s 70-tonne bollard pull is the same as the port’s strongest diesel tug, which consumes 120 liters of diesel per hour.

The cost of the battery-electric tug will be roughly double that of a diesel tug, but it’s operating costs are expected to be less than a third of the cost of a diesel equivalent.  

“So while we pay more upfront, over the life of the tug we’ll save around $12 million in operating costs, making our electric tug cheaper in the long term,” said Gibson.

There will be approximately six weeks of testing in the port before Sparky is fully commissioned and operational.