The electric boating industry made its initial splash in Lake Tahoe’s waters last summer when Ingenity, in cooperation with the Tahoe Fund, installed an electric boat charger [EB Charger] at Homewood High & Dry Marina in Lake Tahoe. Currently, the company is undergoing a permitting process to build on its power-charging capacity there to facilitate a greater market opportunity for its recently developed, electric-powered watersports vessel.
“Last year, we brought in a level two charger that delivers 25 kilowatts of charging power,” said Sean Marrero, president of Ingenity Electric. “This year, we are permitting a much larger service and bringing more power down to the shore that will allow for up to 100 kilowatts of charging power, so about four times more than we had last year and that’s all in the final stages of permitting.”
When completed, the station will have the capacity to charge two boats at the same time and will be roughly the same size as a standard gas pump. Considering most marinas already have infrastructure in place to power boat lifts, installing an EB Charger that capitalizes on existing infrastructure is a logical step for the development of an electric boat industry.
“This kind of boat lives on a boat lift, so many people already have power at the dock for the lift and it’s just a matter of increasing that capacity,” Marrero explained. “An interesting thing is that in a marina environment, a 240 volt, 50 amp plug is very standard at every slip. The source of power coming in from the grid is from the utility, but the hardware in between [the power grid and the boat] is different.”
Consequently, Ingenity, a subsidiary of the Watershed Innovation division of the boat-building company Correct Craft, is looking to enhance the charging capacities at the Homewood Marina EB charging station. This development comes as the company views Lake Tahoe as a key market for its Super Air Natique GS22E electric boat model released last year.
Electric boating is not necessarily a novel idea, according to Todd Sims, the director of sales for Ingenity Electric’s Americas region. However, their use has primarily been in capacities such as low-speed, displacement craft like cocktail cruisers.
“There are tens of thousands of electric boats in the US and around the world, but they don’t go fast or use much power, so they’re not a performance vessel. But in the last five years or so, you’re seeing all different kinds of applications in the recreational sector. So we have taken this high-performance, multi-watersport towboat that has been sold for years with the gasoline V8 combustion motor and created a powertrain that can deliver this similar experience to the user, but using electric propulsion,” Sims said.
Therefore, Ingenity’s Super Air Natique GS22E model is one of the first of its kind in electric boating, designed specifically for high-performance watersports such as wakeboarding, wake-surfing and water-skiing.
A common challenge in high-powered electric vehicles is the need for a higher energy density, or the amount of energy capable of being stored in a given power unit like a battery. This need typically calls for a heavier or more inefficient battery size, a significant disadvantage to many electric vehicles that need to capitalize on carrying large payloads. In electric boating, however, this challenge incidentally may prove to be an advantage when applied in a high-performance, watersports capacity.
“A lot of your design of electric vehicles is around efficiency and reducing weight,” Marrero said. “But the watersports boat, particularly for surfing and wakeboarding, is a little bit unique in that weight is a welcome addition to the boat and the batteries themselves tend to be heavier than the parts and pieces they’re replacing. So watersports happens to be one use-case where inefficiency is of some value for the end customer who cares more about the shape of the wake and how the boat will perform for them from the watersports perspective.”
For those whose recreational activities include watersports, there are additional perks that may come with using electric boats in place of their standard combustion motor counterparts.
“It’s also quite nice, especially if you’re surfing, to not have any fumes or noise from the combustion motor. Electric boats are quiet enough that observers can actually talk to the surfers in a fairly normal voice,” Sims said of the electric boating experience.
Boat owners themselves may also recognize an added benefit in the convenience factor of not having to constantly acquire and fill their boats with gasoline, which at times can be a tedious and expensive process.
“From the user and boat owner experience, the convenience of being able to plug it in and it’s ready in the morning is huge,” described Sims. “If you’ve ever fueled up a small boat with gas cans, you know what a hassle that is and you also may end up spilling a little bit in the water, as hard as you may try not to. So the tech industry and the early adopters, they’re already driving electric cars and they have expectations that they have a choice for an electric boat as well.”
“[Electric boats] run long enough to satisfy almost all of the use-cases that we see on the gas side and the idea is that you don’t have to waste any time going to get gas,” Marrero said. “Then without having any kind of environmental impact related to fueling the boat is just a cherry on the cake. So people miss out that it’s really a convenience factor that ultimately is the biggest value proposition for the electric boat.”
All said, Ingenity recognizes Lake Tahoe as an untapped and burgeoning market for their high-performance, multi-watersport electric boat. But in order to capitalize on this developing opportunity, a charging infrastructure needs to be put in place. Thus, Ingenity is making an investment now with an eye toward the future of recreational activities at the lake.
“It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation that you find with electric cars in that you need a facility to charge them,” explained Sims. “So right now we’re at the stage of trying to sell boats and of course to support that we have to have the charging infrastructure there, so it’s laying the framework for future expansion of electric boats on Lake Tahoe and other places.”
According to Sean Marrero, what makes Lake Tahoe such an appealing market, however, also has a lot to do with the public’s well-known relationship with the lake itself.
“Lake Tahoe is pretty unique in the US as far as its beauty and the amount of interest there is in preserving it for the future, which is really appealing to us as it relates to the sustainability aspect of the electric drive. It’s also close to a lot of early adopters and people willing to work through these early technologies so from our perspective, we’re really happy with the progress we’ve made but there’s still a long way to go as we continue to push forward in Tahoe and in other places.”
Scott King writes about science, technology, and the environment for the Ally. Support his work.