Integrated Electric Propulsion can be used to drive both civilian and naval ships. Currently, ships in the Chinese Navy rely on steam engines, diesel engines, gas turbine engines or a combination thereof to drive mechanically the propeller through a shaft.
However, Integrated Electric Propulsion eliminates the need for a direct connection. Instead of the mechanical transmission of energy, the engines produce electricity which is transmitted to electric motors that drive the propellers.
This new arrangements offers several advantages to naval ships, including:
- Since there is no longer a need for a direct mechanical connection, engine placement can be made more flexible, which can improve the design of naval ships.
- Frees up room for some needed gearboxes and related equipment which can be used for other purposes.
- Eliminates the need to have separate engines for generating electricity and ship propulsion. Having all engines generate electricity is much more efficient.
- Eliminating mechanical transmission of energy and its vibration reduces the acoustic signature of ships which helps in Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW).
Integrated Electric Propulsion is still not widely used, but in recent years it has become more prevalent in some Navies. For example, the United Kingdom's new Type 45 destroyers already use Integrated Electric Propulsion.
The Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier being build will use this technology. The United States Navy has also begun to introduce it in some of their newer vessels. Integrated Electric Propulsion is likely to become more norm than exception in the near future.