Norled is aiming to be an industry leader in sustainable solutions, says CEO Heidi Wolden
Boasting a long coastline relative to its size as well as its iconic fjords, Norway depends more than many countries on ferries for both essential services and transporting passengers.
Headquartered in Stavanger, Norled has a strong history of providing various transport services in the country. It currently operates around 70 ferries and express boats along the Norwegian coast, from Oslo in the south to Harstad in the north. Transporting people, goods and cars all year round, the company’s ferries are a central part of the Norwegian infrastructure.
“Our express boats transport people quickly from one area to another where it often is faster to go by boat than car, and we also offer tourist trips to our fjords and grand natural attractions,” says Heidi Wolden, who took up the role as Norled CEO in May 2020.
The company has developed a reputation for investing in innovative technologies to help minimise its carbon emissions. “Norled has worked hard to reduce emissions related to ferries and express boats,” says Wolden. “We introduced the world’s first electrical vessel, MF Ampere, back in 2015, which revolutionised the Norwegian ferry industry. Since then we have built several other electrical ferries and we use electrical ferries where we can.”
Norled’s fully electric ferry MF Ryfylkeferjen, which entered service in July 2022, continues to build the brand’s reputation for sustainable and efficient travel. “The ferry is one of several electrical ferries in our fleet,” says Wolden. “When we build new ferries they are mainly electrical. Our goal is to reduce our emissions by 67 per cent by 2030 and that means that 65 per cent of our fleet will be zero-emission vessels. Norled has led the way with new zero-emission solutions, and MF Ryfylkeferjen is part of that.”
In another industry first, Norled took delivery of MF Hydra, the world’s first ferry running on liquid hydrogen (LH2), in July 2021. This technology demonstration project was conceived to prepare the ground for any future ship that will use hydrogen as a fuel and its progress is being watched with interest by other operators. “We believe future projects for ferries in Norway will depend on LH2 production in Norway,” says Wolden. “Hydrogen is best to use on longer ferry stretches where batteries cannot be charged regularly.”
The operator’s customer, the Norwegian Public Roads Administration, is an important stakeholder in all stages of planning for LH2-fuelled ferries.
MF Hydra can also sail using batteries as an alternative to the proton-exchange membrane fuel cells running on LH2, which means the ferry’s environmental impact will be zero. This is an important aspect of the company’s long-term strategy.
“Norled aims to be a leading player within sustainable maritime solutions,” says Wolden. “Sustainability is an integrated part of our activity, strategy and plans. It’s our goal to cut our carbon dioxide emissions by 67 per cent by 2030 through boosting the share of low- and zero-emission vessels in the fleet from four per cent in 2019 to 65 per cent by 2030. We aim to be a zero-emission company by 2040.”
Norled plans to reach this goal by working together with strategic partners such as propulsion systems providers, automation companies and energy carriers. In addition, the company is spearheading a battery swap system for express boats in order to ensure that they also become zero-emission vessels. “Our battery swap system, SHIFTR, enables us to sail on electricity but maintain the high speed we are used to with express boats,” says Wolden.
From a staffing perspective, Norled is working to be a leader in equal representation at work for its crew. “We are working to attract more women to the industry, where the goal is a 50 per cent proportion in the onshore organisation management, and 30 per cent proportion in the company by 2030,” says Wolden.
This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe to Cruise & Ferry Review for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox or your door.