Right next to the fuel pumps of the boat refueling station in the port of Cogolin, there is now a new one all in green. Its fuel doesn’t smell, but it packs a punch: it’s concentrated electrical energy. Here on the Cote d’Azur, 75 kW rush at the push of a button via a cable as thick as an arm to the electric boat moored next to it.
The green gas pump is a fast-charging station for the latest generation of electric boats. Boats like the brand new X Shore 1 from Sweden, which travels up to 50 nautical miles at 20 knots cruising speed. Only then is the 63 kWh battery exhausted. The green column can almost completely refill this battery in one hour – so that the journey can continue.
The company that put up the green column is itself at the start of a great journey: Under the sonorous name Aqua superPower, the British company has set out to electrify the boating world. „We’re building the infrastructure“, says founder Stewart Wilkinson at the inauguration of the green column in Cogolin. His strategy sounds simple: „We’re putting charging stations where voyages can be easily electrified.“
Start at the epicenter of boating
On the Cote d’Azur, Aqua, as employees casually call their company, started at the epicenter of boating: The first charging stations were installed in Monaco and St. Tropez in 2020. Cannes and Ventimiglia followed. In a few years‘ time, Aqua’s green columns will supply electricity at intervals of 20 to 50 nautical miles in many marinas between San Remo and Marseille.
The new Swedish e-motorboat X Shore 1 charges at the fast charger in St. Tropez © Wildberg
Thus grows a corridor along which you can comfortably and safely take electric boat trips. A green string of pearls. Boats of up to 15 meters in size can shimmy along it.
Who thinks Tesla now thinks right
The plan sounds fantastic – and strangely familiar. If you think Tesla now, you’re right: Ten years ago, the pioneer in the construction of electric cars began to set up a network of charging stations to quickly charge the batteries of his car models. Elon Musk had recognized that electric cars could only be used in everyday life if fast-charging stations were available as widely as possible.
Stewart Wilkinson is the founder of the yard Vita and the electricity supplier Aqua Super-Power © Wildberg
The U.S. company started with one corridor each of its Superchargers on the west and east coasts of the U.S., which were later connected via trans-American corridors. Today, Tesla operates more than 32,000 Superchargers worldwide, the network is being continuously expanded and is now also open to other brands. And other manufacturers followed suit. And now Aqua on the water.
It’s quite possible that the boating industry will know Stewart Wilkinson as the „Musk of water sports“ in a few years. Because like the Tesla CEO, Wilkinson, who originally earned his bread and butter in the investment industry, has also tackled both at the same time: Grid and vehicles. Since 2018, he has owned Vita Yachts, a shipyard that builds electric pleasure boats. The largest is called the Vita Lion, a 10,50 meter runabout in the style of a Riva Aquarama, travels at speed up to 35 knots, and charges in just over an hour at the green charging station.
The Vita Lion is the largest electric boat from the British shipyard Vita, it travels at speed up to 35 knots © Wildberg
50 green columns around the world
Wilkinson is therefore building charging stations for his yacht customers – and for the entire industry. And like Musk, the Briton is apparently calmly accepting the fact that for the time being only his very ambitious plan exists. And that a lot of time and money may pass before the desired network is in place. Around 50 charging stations have been set up around the world so far, and in addition to the Mediterranean corridor, one already exists in rudimentary form on England’s south coast.
There is also a single green column each at Lake Tahoe and Lake Michigan, one at Lake Maggiore, and one near Venice. Wilkinson wants to connect Germany to the Aqua network in 2023 at the earliest. And even if he ceremoniously inaugurates the first green column there, a long time may pass before the electricity flows. Martinho Fortunato knows a thing or two about that: The Portuguese is co-owner of the Lagos Marina, where an Aqua charging pole has been in place since June 2022. „No one has charged there yet,“ he tells float. Isn’t that frustrating?
So far no one has come to charge in Lagos
But Fortunato is not surprised by the lack of demand: So far, there is not an electric boat in any of his 500 boxes. Does that cause frustration? „You have to make a start,“ he says unapologetically. His customers are interested, but no one would buy a new yacht just because of the new offer. But the marina would: „We’re going to buy an electric workboat soon.“
Martinho Fortunato had an Aqua charging pole installed in Lagos, Portugal, in June 2022 © Wildberg
Fortunato considers commercial users to be the more attractive target group: „Private boaters are out and about too rarely; for them, fast charging is not yet worthwhile.“ Incidentally, he says, the change needs to be exemplified: „If people see that it even works for working boats, they’re more likely to be convinced.“
This is also the opinion of Marc-Entienne Lansade, mayor of Cogolin and, by his own account, a passionate motorboat driver. On the occasion of the inauguration of „his“ column at the marina, he gave an extensive eulogy on the new era. In conversation with float, he admits that even technology is still relatively remote to him.
When asked what kind of boat he drives, Lansade replies with an embarrassed smile: „Nope!“, he won’t reveal that here. Electric boats are even rarer than electric cars, especially on the Cote d’Azur. Aqua’s project is a bold bet on the future.
The RIB X9 Explorer can be operated with an e-motor from Evoy © Hersteller
But Lansade, like the marina operator Fortunato and the Aqua people, has no doubt that the electrification of water sports makes sense. Aqua makes this clear in its advertising flyer with a drastic example: A ten-meter-long day boat with a diesel engine produces about 1,290 kg of CO2 during a day trip – as much as a car in three months. Fortunato adds: „After all, it’s not just about CO2 avoidance and fewer pollutants in the air and water: E-motors cause less noise, above and also under water.“
Automotive developments go fast
The parallels to electric mobility on land are obvious, believes Aqua’s CEO Alex Bamberg. He should know: The Briton developed the second-largest fast-charging network on England’s roads by 2019. His company, Genie-Point, is now part of a French electric utility empire. And Bamberg is enthusiastically dedicated to the idea of applying the pattern to another element. „I’ve learned an incredible amount from the car market,“ he says.
Electromobility on the water benefits immensely from this experience, as the car industry is at least ten years ahead. And developments there are rolling over: „I reported my plans to Porsche management five years ago: I predicted to them that their 911 would no longer be the bestseller in their portfolio within the next six years.“ At the time, Porsche people would have laughed. „It took three and a half years for an electric Porsche to become their top seller in several countries in Europe.“ Bamberg predicts the same phenomenal transformation for the boating industry.
Alex Bamberg transfers his experience from the automotive market to the boating industry © Wildberg
He draws another parallel to his experience with Genie Point: „If you put the charging points down, the vehicles will follow.“ It builds confidence, and that’s necessary, he says, because there is still concern about lack of range. The most common question from electric boat buyers today, he said, is still: What is the range on one battery charge? It is now up to Aqua to go into the field and install sufficient charging stations at the shortest possible intervals.
No threat of a short circuit
Charging itself is child’s play and far less dangerous than refueling. „As long as the cable connection is not established and the current flow is activated, nothing can happen,“ says Bamberg. Even if the heavy plug and cable fall into the water, there’s no threat of a short circuit. „The line is dead.“
The charging process is initiated via smartphone app © Wildberg
Only when the charging management system on the boat communicates with the charging station can the process be started with a tap on the app. In principle, the process is the same as charging an electric car at any fast charging station. There, too, power accidents in the event of rain or thunderstorms are practically impossible.
Profitable in seven to eleven years
Bamberg also exudes confidence about the economic viability of the wickedly expensive charging stations. „We expect them to pay for themselves in seven to eleven years.“ He says the team has already had a hard slog. For the 50 or so charging stations, it had to navigate around enormous bureaucratic and legal reefs.
Not too many charging stations are in operation yet © Hersteller
This is what the network from charging station operator Aqua should look like in the short term © Hersteller
For power transmission, Aqua uses the CCS standard from the automotive industry © Hersteller
One of the two plugs of the charging station is occupied, a boat taps energy here © Wildberg
And thus enjoys a unique selling proposition, which in turn means market power. As a result, Aqua is already exerting a major influence on the industry that is just emerging: DC fast chargers have adopted the so-called Combined Charging System (CCS), the auto industry’s standard plug. Several yards are already adapting to the standard. Aqua builds the chargers at its own expense, and the ports then rent them.
The charging capacity of the charging columns can be increased, so 150-kW chargers are already being installed – which actually puts Aqua on a par with Tesla. The company is also laying the supply lines itself. And where this is not possible, Aqua plans to generate electricity for the boats directly on site from hydrogen in the future.
Pioneering work was done years ago
Bamberg emphasizes that the pioneering work was done years ago. He recalls how Genie-Point built the first charging stations in England. „In 2012, in London, they didn’t even know what a Charger was. This time, we solved the problems much faster.“ In the meantime, he says, there is much more awareness among politicians and in administrations that these steps are simply necessary to achieve clean air. The journey has just begun. But the destination is already clear to all.