As of 2026, cruise ships that are not emission-free will be prohibited from entering the Geirangerfjord and Norway’s other World Heritage fjords. However, where some may see insurmountable challenges, several Norwegian companies spy opportunities.
Norwegian cruise traffic has experienced tremendous growth, contributing heavily to value creation in Norway’s ocean industries as a whole. This totalled roughly USD 75 billion in 2017 – or approximately one third of overall value creation in the private sector.
At the same time, the cruise industry has a huge environmental footprint. According to the Western Norway Research Institute, cruise ships in Norway consume about 170 million litres of fuel a year – accounting for nearly 3 per cent of the country’s overall greenhouse gas emissions. Most of the fuel is burned at sea, but around 20 per cent – or nearly 34 million litres – is burned while the ships are in port.
There are few places where this is more apparent than in the Geirangerfjord. The fjord – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – receives around 800 000 visitors a year. Two of five visitors are cruise tourists, with tourism generating roughly USD 22 million annually. Growth is expected to continue unabated, despite the fact that the Norwegian Maritime Authority warns that air quality will be downright hazardous at times in the narrow fjord.
To tackle these environmental challenges, the Storting (Norwegian parliament) has introduced new requirements stipulating that all cruise ships and ferries in World Heritage fjords must be emission-free from 2026. The Government is also seeking to cut emissions from domestic shipping and fisheries in half by 2030.
Meeting these requirements will require tremendous innovation in green maritime technology. Fortunately, Norway is a world leader in this area. Below are some of the novel, environment-friendly solutions being developed by Norwegian companies.
For ships – like cars – making the transition from fossil fuels to electricity will bring significant environmental benefits. Most of the world’s shipping fleet is powered by heavy oil. While this type of fuel is cost-effective, it emits relatively large amounts of NOx and SOx. But is it possible to generate enough electricity to power a ship weighing up to several hundred thousand metric tons?
It is – at least for a day. Ulstein is developing a comprehensive power solution which will allow large cruise ships to run emission-free for a full day. The solution, Ulstein Zed, will include powerful batteries, energy recovery, specialised heating and ventilation, solar panels and hot water storage. All of the technology is currently commercially viable and available, and some of the components can also be retrofitted onto existing vessels.
It is not entirely unthinkable that large ships can also become fully electric. The autonomous vessel Yara Birkeland was built by the Norwegian shipyard Vard Brattvåg for the Norwegian fertiliser company Yara and is now undergoing testing and preparations for autonomous operations. Once completed, the electric ship will transport fertiliser from Yara’s factory at Herøya to the ports at Breivik and Larvik – navigating with GPS, radar, cameras and sensors.
Hydrogen is a promising alternative fuel, both for land-based and sea transport. It offers tremendous environmental benefits compared with fossil fuels, as hydrogen-based fuel cells are renewable and emit only heat and water vapour.
HYON develops tailor-made hydrogen solutions for shipping that enable shipowners to store and transport their own hydrogen. HYON’s technology is comprised of powerful, lightweight, compact fuel cells that can be integrated into the systems on existing vessels. The company’s solutions are also potentially very attractive for cruise ships.
Hurtigruten has given its new environment-friendly cruise ships the names of two of Norway’s most renowned explorers. The MS Roald Amundsen and MS Fridtjof Nansen are the world’s first hybrid-electric expedition cruise ships.
Powerful battery packs will reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions by more than 20 per cent and allow the vessels to operate entirely emission-free during short periods of time. Hurtigruten has also set room aside to expand battery capacity and add new technology. To top it off, the cruise ships will not use single-use plastic and will prioritise improved waste management and recycling.
The MS Roald Amundsen and MS Fridtjof Nansen are designed to stand up to harsh weather conditions in destinations such as Antarctica, South America, Greenland and Svalbard and along the Norwegian coastline.
Havila is also building hybrid ships, but with another type of technology. With the support of the Norwegian NOx fund, the company is building coastal cruise liners that will run on LNG and battery power.
LNG stands for liquified natural gas. The cleanest of the fossil fuels, it is considered an important “bridging fuel” in the transition to low-carbon energy. On board Havila’s cruise ships, the use of LNG will cut carbon emissions by 25 per cent, and the battery pack will enable the vessels to sail emission-free for several hours at a time.
In its effort to ultimately become emission-free, Havila has also developed a platform for commercialising and tracking low and zero-emission technologies. In this way the company can document the real, overall impact of its combined low and zero-emission technologies using a multidisciplinary approach and advanced simulation models.
At the opposite end of the scale, smaller tourist ships can give cruise passengers a different kind of experience. The ground-breaking hybrid-electric catamaran Brim is silent, emission-free and can hold up to 140 passengers. Developed in collaboration with the environmental organisation Bellona, the tourist boat can run for a full day on battery power and can charge overnight in most ports in North Norway. Fitted with underwater microphones, cameras and drones, Brim takes tourists close to Arctic nature and wildlife above and below the sea – with minimal impact.