The powerboats that run on electricity

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Could a new race series for electric speedboats be a test-bed for the technology we need to switch all small boats to battery power? Spanish entrepreneur Alejandro Agag hopes so.

Electric vehicles figure prominently in Alejandro Agag’s life. This former Spanish politician, now a sports entrepreneur, first set up the Formula E World Championship for electric racing cars in 2014. Seven years later there followed the Extreme E race series for off-road electric cars. His latest venture, due to launch in 2023, is the E1 Series for electric powerboat racing.

The plan is for 12 teams (yet to be confirmed) to race identical seven-metre-long speedboats, powered by outboard electric motors and balanced on hydrofoils that lift them clear of the water to avoid excess drag, giving them a top speed of around 50 knots. So far, only a carbon-fibre prototype of the speedboat – called the RaceBird – has been constructed. In-water testing is expected during 2022.

Agag and his co-founder Rodi Basso plan to stage an annual series, with races at aquatic venues all over the planet. So far, Monaco is the only confirmed location. However, they say they are in talks with around 70 other potential host cities including New York, Miami, London, Stockholm, Rotterdam, Budapest, Barcelona, Geneva, Zurich and Dubrovnik. The Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah is being mooted as a possible site for the inaugural race. The series may also share more remote locations with Extreme E, Agag’s aforementioned off-road electric motor racing series.

Agag and Basso, who both live in London, first struck upon their idea for E1 while walking alongside the Thames at the height of the pandemic lockdown, back in 2020. Watching all the industrial river-boats churning out diesel fumes, they asked themselves why there wasn’t a powerboat series for electric boats. Duly inspired, they contacted Norwegian and Italian boat designers Sophi Horne and Brunello Acampora, who both then set to work on creating the RaceBird.

Thanks to its hydrofoil, the sleek vessel will ride high out of the water, creating very little wake, even at fast speeds. This will allow pilots to negotiate tight, technical circuits, racing close to one another, without risking collision. Agag and Basso envisage “circuits located close to shore in the heart of urban areas”.

It’s likely each race format will be four boats competing in heats, followed by knock-out rounds leading to a grand finale. For the first few seasons all teams will have to use identical boats, but in the future, they will be allowed to experiment with different technologies within the rules of powerboating’s governing body, the UIM (Union Internationale Motonautique). Agag hopes his series will be an important test-bed for electric vessels of all types, just as Formula 1 has been a test-bed for commercial motor cars.

In an interview for Chart magazine, at the launch of the RaceBird, at the Monaco Yacht Show in September 2021, Agag stressed how it was high time all leisure craft switched from fossil-fuel-powered engines to electric battery motors. He pointed to the vast yachts moored in Monaco’s harbour. “Don't get me wrong, I love the aesthetic of yachts,” he said. “It’s an important industry that creates a lot of jobs. But sometimes you question whether it makes sense to go bigger and bigger; the opulence. It’s very polluting. It has a big carbon footprint and, definitely, it’s an industry that will have to change. That’s what we’re here for.”

From the late 1980s until the early 2000s, Agag worked in Spanish politics. Then he switched his attention to business and sport, working mainly in motor racing and football, until eventually, in 2014, he launched his first electric race series, the now very successful Formula E Championship.

Having converted from internal combustion engines to battery-powered cars, he now points to the absurdity of racing vehicles that burn fossil fuels. He hopes for a future – a near future – when all small boats will be powered by batteries of some sort.

“I cannot see a future if they’re not,” he told Chart magazine. “We need to change all mobility to electric. It will take a long-time and it won’t be painless or cheap, but we have to do it.”

He believes even the commercial ships and vast container ships that roam our oceans will all eventually abandon fossil fuels. “Batteries are okay for light boats that you take out for three or four hours. But the big ships will need a different technology.” These, he suggests, might be powered by hydrogen, perhaps within the next ten or 20 years.

Crucially, he’s hoping his E1 Series will itself accelerate this inevitable switch to battery-powered boats. Alongside the RaceBird, he and his colleagues are developing a boat-sharing service which will allow members of the public to rent six-berth electric passenger boats via an online booking platform – similar to city rental schemes for bicycles and e-scooters. Initially they might be available in the cities where the E1 series races will be staged. Agag points out how the potential for carbon-zero boat hire in coastal cities or cities with river networks could be enormous.

Ultimately, this may be the most important legacy of the E1 series. “I think E1 will be profitable but then SeaBird and the electric boat company has the potential to become much bigger. The idea is that the technology is created through the [powerboat] racing, and then used for the general public.”

Agag hopes SeaBird will end up as ubiquitous on the water as a vehicle created by another entrepreneur currently is on the road. “I hope SeaBird can become a Tesla for the water,” he says optimistically.

L-R Alejandro Agag, Sophi Horne, Rodi Basso

The UIM E1 World Electric Powerboat Series electric RaceBird powerboat
(Photos by Lloyd Images) Credit: Lloyd Images

Banner image: The UIM E1 World Electric Powerboat Series electric RaceBird powerboat. (Photos by Lloyd Images) Credit: Lloyd Images

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