Ten years on from its first installation, Onboard DC Grid™ has established itself as a staple in multiple vessel segments, justifying ABB’s decision to invest in DC as the backbone for the ships of the future.
With the groundbreaking first installation of Onboard DC Grid™ in 2013, ABB became the first company to deliver a direct current (DC)-based onboard power system to an oceangoing vessel. The decision to invest in DC had been motivated by a desire not only to unlock new efficiencies for contemporary ship operations but also to future-proof vessels for the advanced, environmentally-friendly energy sources of tomorrow.
From the beginning, we have listened to our customers about their needs.
“Direct current is the common denominator between many of the systems on board vessels, so the fundamental concept was to simplify the power setup by reducing the need for components like transformers and switchboards,” explains John Olav Lindtjørn, Head of Product & Portfolio Management, Electric Solutions, ABB Marine & Ports. “But we were also aware of DC’s role in the electrification of transport and saw that by investing in it as the backbone for emerging technologies like batteries, fuel cells and variable speed generators, we would be serving the ships of the future, too.”
The benefits of a leaner power system design are considerable. With fewer components, integration and maintenance are relatively simple and cost-effective, while fewer conversions mean the power train is more efficient, in turn reducing fuel consumption and emissions. Meanwhile, the smaller footprint minimizes weight and leaves more space for cargo, passengers and additional equipment and systems.
Keys to success: persistence, belief in the product, and humility.
Onboard DC Grid™ initially targeted the offshore market, where its high fault tolerance and enabling of variable speed diesel engines were particularly valuable. However, also operators from other segments soon came to recognize the advantages of installing a DC-based power system onboard, this time driven by the simplicity of integrating batteries. The passenger segment became the largest market for the solution, which has played a pivotal role in enabling hybrid- and all-electric ferry operations. Yet Onboard DC Grid™ has since found a ready audience among most of ABB’s served segments – from towage and fishing to research and naval.
The keys to this success, according to Lindtjørn, have been persistence, belief in the product, and humility. “From the beginning, we have listened to our customers about their needs, constantly asking them and ourselves whether we are solving their problems in the most effective way,” he says. “It’s about staying relevant – not just focusing on the here and now but looking to and beyond the horizon to ensure that we’re ready to meet new demands as soon as they emerge. Take fuel cells, for example. Already at a very early stage, we were discussing how fuel cells could be integrated into the power system, so when the market started asking the same question, we were ready to respond.”
Lindtjørn also points to a modular development approach that allows ABB to expand its portfolio as requirements evolve and offer customers the flexibility to adopt new energy sources when the time is right.
“There have been a lot of discussions around hydrogen, fuel cells and fuels of the future, and it’s not always clear-cut to make the right decisions today,” he explains. “With Onboard DC Grid™, you have a modular system platform that allows you to pivot later on – whether that’s because it turns out the needs have changed since the first installation or simply because new opportunities have emerged. Onboard DC Grid™ is really a vehicle for meeting environmental goals in the long run – for us, for our customers and for the wider maritime industry.”
Moving forward, Onboard DC Grid™ will serve increasingly advanced applications at higher powers, offering greater protection through closed-bus operation in the most demanding situations. It will also cater to lower powers, with user interfaces, footprints and delivery mechanisms geared towards smaller vessels and loads. Moreover, with DC providing the ideal platform for digital solutions, ABB is integrating Onboard DC Grid™ more closely with cutting-edge technologies such as advisory functions.
For all its development in recent years, Onboard DC Grid™ remains fundamentally the same product that was first installed on board multipurpose offshore vessel Dina Star in 2013. “Part of the beauty of Onboard DC Grid™ is how little the original idea has changed over the years,” reflects Lindtjørn. “Although it has certainly evolved, and its market reach has grown significantly, the core product is still very much recognizable from its original form. This shows the strength of the concept and justifies our decision to invest in DC as the backbone for the ships of the future.”