An interview with Southern Power CEO, Jacques Brummer, on the drive towards electric power for a decarbonised marine industry.
Prompted by high fuel costs, environmental considerations and accelerating innovation, more boat owners are moving to hybrid or fully electric propulsion solutions. We sat down with Jacques Brummer to get his insights on the changing seascape.

Where does the marine industry stand on electric power in mid-2024?
“The drive towards electrification, towards decarbonisation, is advancing primarily for three reasons:

Firstly, the marine industry as a whole appears favourable towards embracing new technology that contributes to decarbonisation. 

Secondly, more countries around the world are adding their legislation towards the goal of Net Zero by 2050, which is driving adoption of alternative power solutions.

Thirdly, there have been massive leaps forward in the relevant technology – for example, with boat owners now able to get more power out of smaller battery packs, at a much lower cost than a decade ago. Meanwhile, on the macro scale, big maritime companies are actively pursuing alternatives for onboard power generation including wind power, hydrogen – and even molten salt reactors (Electric & Hybrid Marine Technology International).”

Watch the full video series here: 

How is Southern Power supporting the adoption of electric power locally?
“Southern Power is excited to be part of this journey and the rapid pace of change in marine propulsion technology. The big thing for us is about making sure that we, as a supplier in this industry, are able to supply leading-edge technologies that are fit for purpose.

We really believe that there isn’t a one size fits all solution. Some parts of the industry are easier to electrify/decarbonise while, with others, it’s more challenging –  which is where some of the hybrid solutions that we are looking at come in.”


Hybrid engines combine both diesel and electric – what are the main advantages?
“The main advantage of a hybrid engine is that it does reduce emissions (those emission reductions are dependent on what the energy mix is and on the energy uses). So, a hybrid engine is moving in the right direction, and it also allows for a broader range of applications.

One of the common questions around electrification is, How is it suited to my operation? Things like speed requirements and distance requirements all play into the building of a hybrid system, and its viability. 

On the electric side, hybrids work very well in low speed applications, like when you’re in harbours or on enclosed waterways – and then you have the advantages of a combustion engine for longer, or higher speed, trips. Hybrid systems are great because they also recharge the (electrical) battery during combustion mode.

For us as a company in South Africa, where we don’t have a lot of legislation driving this,
we believe that hybrid is probably one of the quickest routes for moving people towards a decarbonised future.”

Southern Power recently brought the OXE Hybrid 450 to SA. What has been the response?
“I think there is a lot of interest and people can see the application. The OXE 450 not only provides you with the ability to cruise at low speeds in full electric mode,  but the electrical component also becomes a booster for the diesel engine, which goes from 300 HP to an effective 450 HP for high speed or high workload applications. So there are dual benefits. 

It’s also great to see this move in technology, where previously hybrid systems were all in-board, to where we now have the availability of a hybrid outboard from OXE, because there are a lot of applications where an outboard is a lot more suitable.”

Beyond hybrid engines, is the future of boating really electric?
“I think it’s going to be a collection of solutions. Having attended some of the exhibitions and seeing the number of exhibitors grow, seeing some of the new products that are out there, and some of the new energy platforms that I’d never even heard of, it’s just amazing to see what’s coming up – and I think it’s driven by this collective desire to move towards a decarbonised future. It is going to take industry players – global players, local players – working together to deliver the right solutions.” 


What concerns are delaying the widespread adoption of full electric propulsion?
“One of the biggest hurdles is (still) the cost. Without a doubt, even with the reduction in the costs of battery technology, it’s still a lot more expensive than a traditional combustion engine; petrol or diesel. 

The other issue is the range anxiety, which was addressed in the auto industry. We’ve been fortunate, with our brothers and sisters in that industry really paving the way and driving the innovation and technology … because of the automotive industry, we are able to learn from that and use elements that suit the marine application. 

A third issue is the safety issue – people are scared. Electricity and water; they don’t mix, right? That’s where governing bodies come in and they are working very hard to keep pace with the changes in technology. They are working hand in hand with industry – with producers, suppliers, boat builders and end users – to make sure that the introduction of this technology is safe.”


What obstacles do Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) face in this transition journey?
“I think the biggest challenge they face is reaching the performance requirements. Any boat builder, or naval architect, will design a boat and then state certain performance characteristics. So now it becomes a little difficult in this new age – unless you’re going hybrid, because obviously it doesn’t really change your dynamics of range or speed, other than the fact that you’re potentially adding more weight.

The problem comes in when you go full electric, where your battery says OK, it’s going to do this –  and then your boat’s in the water and the sea state changes, resistance changes, and then those calculations, in terms of range and running time, can be reduced.

I think one of the challenges with that is that there are few integrated solutions. Very often part of the solution is through a propulsion company that focuses on propulsion, and then the other part is the battery supply and technology. 

So what we’re seeing now in the market is where a lot of companies are doing a vertical integrated approach where they own the propulsion, the battery technology, the control systems and the battery management. So I think until that becomes more the norm, rather than the exception, as we see it in South Africa specifically – then those disappointments are still going to come up. 

So my advice (to boat builders and naval architects) in those situations is to very carefully make sure of the application; make sure that the technology matches that application, and then generally build in some buffer, or some variance around performance figures and maybe be a little more conservative around those calculations, so that essentially customers don’t feel that they’ve been overpromised and under-delivered. 

That’s where Southern Power comes in, as a specialist in this field. We can make sure that, when we propose a  system, it’s actually going to do what we say it’s going to do.

At the end of the day,  the most important thing is to make sure that whatever technology you choose fits your needs and applications. No one user is the same. Very often, both from an electric and a combustion point of view, you can change certain parameters. 

So let’s say on the electric side, you buy an electric solution with a battery bank of six batteries and you find that it doesn’t give you what you need; you can add two more batteries.

Remember that none of the systems these days are really static. With a  lot of computers, if your RAM’s too low you can always go and add more RAM. It’s exactly the same in propulsion systems. 

When you’ve got something, there’s a certain amount of upgradability that can happen without redoing it completely – obviously within the limitations of the manufacturer and their warranties –  but you need to understand that there is some flexibility. 

That’s what we as a supplier in the industry need to understand and know. So that we can advise our customers and propose a package or a solution, but then know, what are the options to upgrade or downgrade. It’s our job and our duty as a supplier into the marine industry to make our clients aware of that but also to have the know-how of how to do it in a sustainable and cost effective manner.

For me it’s just an exciting time to be in this industry. It’s exciting to see the innovations and new technologies that are coming to the surface. I think that innovation has never been more important or as accelerated than now. 

Change is in progress and it’s just going to evolve at a more rapid pace, going forward. We just want to stay on par with that and make sure that we can advise our customers in line with the changes and with the new technologies.”