Walter Van der Pennen: EST-Floattech

Walter Van der Pennen: “I kept on hearing ‘Why batteries – what’s wrong with diesel?’ Or ‘Yeah well, maybe climate change doesn’t really exist’... but there was a point last year when it changed” Walter Van der Pennen: “I kept on hearing ‘Why batteries – what’s wrong with diesel?’ Or ‘Yeah well, maybe climate change doesn’t really exist’... but there was a point last year when it changed”
Industry Database

“When I tried to tell people that electric-hybrid vessels were the future, I kept on hearing ‘Why batteries – what’s wrong with diesel?’ Or ‘Yeah well, maybe climate change doesn’t really exist’,” Walter Van der Pennen of EST-Floattech told 'MJ'. “But there was a point last year when it changed – and now almost everyone is catching onto the idea.”

That even includes the Estonian Border Guard: EST-Floattech has recently delivered the energy storage system for an innovative 45-metre patrol vessel built by Baltic Workboats with a hybrid propulsion plant yielding a maximum speed of 27 knots and an economic cruising speed of 10 to 12 knots. It’s a pretty significant win, proving the wider industry is now taking the technology seriously.

It’s also personally satisfying for Van der Pennen. Having developed the twin interests of a small boat and solar cell charged batteries by the age of ten, it is possible he was always headed for a life in alternative marine power. Certainly, following a degree in energy transition, he seemed to land on his feet with a job for global group Imtech.

Initially, everything was plain sailing:  “I learned a lot in the first three years from the technical experts there, they’d take the time to show me how something worked on the whiteboard – it often felt like I was studying again.” He also gained respect for a culture “that made time for listening and thinking”.

But then the big corporate boat was well and truly rocked by financial issues: “At first I got very stressed, but it made me a little more resilient when it comes to change. I’d say it was a useful lesson.” And, he underlined, although there was a lot happening at management level, “we were still at the forefront of hybrid design”.

Still, a year ago he decided to concentrate on his speciality so Van der Pennen decided to go from general systems integrator to battery supplier, jumping into a new venture.

It’s a contrast. “In a very big corporate, there’s an established way of doing everything... In a smaller organisation, there’s a lot of energy, but we also have to develop processes as we go along... That’s also challenging.”

However, there’s a particular element he’s keen to instil: “In a small company everybody is in a constant rush, there is always somewhere you have to be. But you do need to make this ‘learning’ space happen – and there are things I want to pass on; for example I want to help the other guys in our team understand what our customers, the systems integrators, need.”

So, what’s next? Hybrid and full battery-electric systems are now being considered for a wide range of workboats and beginning to be an established alternative in tugs “plus we also see a lot of opportunities for batteries to increase efficiency and reduce emissions on many different types of offshore wind vessels ”, he explained. After all, “a green supply chain for a green industry makes sense”.

By Stevie Knight

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