Diesel-electric propulsion systems – in other words diesel engines operated in conjunction with e-motors and auxiliary variable speed generators – are receiving increased attention in the superyacht market. These flexible systems can offer a number of benefits that appeal to superyacht owners, including noise reduction, reduced emissions and increased fuel efficiency. As such, much noise has been made about the technology's role in the 'next generation' of superyachts.
Sailing yacht A, for example, is fitted with an MTU hybrid system – a combined diesel-electric propulsion system that offers seven different propulsion modes. When needed, a maximum speed of 21 knots is achieved using the diesel engines and electric motors for a combined power output of close to 16,000 kilowatts; while slow cruising with very low vibration levels and reduced fuel consumption is also possible.
There are anecdotal reports of a proliferation in diesel-electric propulsion in the superyacht market. Taking up more interior volume than conventional diesel propulsions systems, such systems feature more commonly in the 60m-plus market. According to data provided by The Superyacht Agency, nine per cent of 60m-plus yachts delivered since 2010 have been built with diesel-electric propulsion, compared to 1.3 per cent of sub-60m yachts delivered in the same time period.
In order to understand whether there has actually been an increase in diesel-electric propulsion in the 60m-plus market, The Superyacht Agency has calculated the percentage distribution of 60m-plus projects delivered with diesel-electric propulsion year-on-year since 2010. This data shows that, while there is a slight upward trend in diesel-electric propulsion, the percentage distribution varies greatly from year to year. For example, 20.8 per cent of projects delivered in 2018 had diesel-electric propulsion compared with 0 per cent in 2019. This suggests that anecdotal reports of a proliferation of diesel-electric propulsion in the superyacht market are slightly exaggerated.
Of the diesel-electric propulsion systems that have been manufactured for the 60m-plus superyacht market segment, there are two leading manufacturers. MTU and Caterpillar hold the strongest position in this market, having manufactured 39 per cent and 33 per cent of the systems respectively, followed by Wärtsilä, which has manufactured 11 per cent. These are manufacturers with extensive experience in the commercial shipping and large custom yacht sector – it is worth noting that the market leaders are likely to differ in the sub-60m yacht market.
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