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In 2003, the IEEE Technical Activities Board initiated an effort through the New Technology Directions Committee (NTDC) to foster more rapid and comprehensive actions in addressing new technologies/new directions in existing technologies, particularly in areas not already being addressed by individual IEEE societies or councils. NTDC conducted forums and solicited input from IEEE societies, councils, and key volunteers to identify new technology thrust areas offering particular promise and being of high interest to IEEE volunteers. One thrust area which rapidly gathered significant interest was Future Power and Alternate Energy Technologies (FPAET). Interest grew in the FPAET thrust group to address the challenge of advancing electric transportation technologies, and the idea of addressing the "all-electric ship" topic quickly caught the interest of a number of IEEE volunteers and societies.

In fall 2004, it quickly became evident that there was enough interest and activity in the Electric Ship Technologies area to permit undertaking an Electric Ship Technologies Symposium (ESTS). ESTS 2005 was a fast-track event offered through the sponsorships of six IEEE societies, plus cooperative sponsorships by the marine societies ASNE and IMarEST. The six IEEE societies — the Dielectrics and Electrical Insulation Society (DEIS), the Industry Applications Society (IAS), the Oceanic Engineering Society (OES), the Power Electronics Society (PELS), the Power and Energy Society (PES), and the Vehicular Technology Society (VTS) — offered a technical expertise base of more than 50,000 IEEE members. The second conference, ESTS 2007, was held in Washington, DC in May 2007. ESTS 2009 was held in April 2009 in Baltimore, Maryland, IEEE ESTS 2011 was held in Alexandria Virginia and the latest IEEE ESTS 2013 was held in Arlington, VA from April 22-24, 2013.