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Decarbonisation and digitalisation in Copenhagen - a call for cooperation

Posted 11.04.2018
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If we tell ourselves shipping is a conservative industry, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, argued Diane Gilpin, Founder CEO at Smart Green Shipping Alliance, sharing her views during the opening stages of this year’s Green Ship Technology (GST) in Copenhagen. Although decarbonisation and digitalisation represent significant challenges, these are by no means unique to shipping – and are common to many other industries. Gilpin stressed that collaboration would be fundamental in addressing the challenges posed by these trends.

Collaboration was a common theme at GST as attendees endeavoured to share knowledge, establish common ground and tackle the issues that are transforming the industry.

Although it was suggested that the 450+ GST attendees illustrate how innovative and committed to evolution the industry can be, a more cynical mind might observe that this is a drop in the proverbial ocean in comparison to the scale of the global industry. However, every industry has its innovators and early adopters, as well as a late majority and laggards. And at least shipping is responding… albeit, some argue, too slowly and largely in response to regulation.

The global sulphur cap from 2020 should represent a rather large regulatory stick – and potentially provides a useful model for predicting how upcoming decarbonisation regulation might play out. It was acknowledged that, in the case of the sulphur cap, unless enforcement can be agreed and implemented in time, the commercial incentive of not playing by the rules may prove too tasty a carrot for less scrupulous owners and operators.

On a panel discussing “Avoiding Environmental Inertia – Addressing Decarbonisation”, it was suggested that inertia stems from lack of faith in some of the available technology, fear of the regulation changing (the ballast water regulations were unsurprisingly cited multiple times), and lack of clarity around oil price predictions and availability of fuels. Given the leap of faith that is demanded of them, Michael Prehn from Danish Maritime made the point that early movers should be rewarded rather than penalised.

One of the major issues discussed was the question of future fuels.

NAMEPA’s Carleen Lyden-Walker asked if LNG could act as a bridge and combat inertia by offering a pathway to a decarbonised future - while Tom Holmes from the Sustainable Shipping Initiative referenced biofuels as an important part of the future fuel mix.

Brent Perry from PBES asserted that no one element of any technology stands in isolation. From fuel cells and wind to biofuels and batteries, he said it's all about creating repeatable, usable, reliable, commercially viable solutions that will operate for decades to come.

It’s been said so many times before, but there is no silver bullet; no ‘one size fits all’ solution to achieving emissions reductions; rather, a complex mix of alternative fuels, renewable energy, plus technological and operational measures to improve energy efficiency. Indeed, following GST, The International Transport Forum (ITF) produced a report that states maximum deployment of currently known technologies could make it possible to reach almost complete decarbonisation of maritime shipping by 2035. Whether this is right or wrong, the sheer variety of options presents its own challenges as owners and operators must weigh up what’s best for each individual vessel as well as their fleet as a whole.

Although – the clue’s in the name – the conference was largely focused on technology, its impact on the crew and welfare was also discussed. During the ‘Crewing in the 21st century’ panel, Sotiris Kambanellas from FML Ship Management Ltdsaid that technology and automation are essential to attracting new seafarers into the industry and improving crew welfare. He highlighted that the responsibilities of some roles, the captain as one example, have greatly expanded. And suggested that technology won't remove the need for crew, but should provide them greater opportunity to focus on their primary task, as well as more time for rest and socialising.

Jason Barreto, head of sales, OSM reminded attendees that despite all the discussion around digitalisation, it will be essential to remain focused on the people and cultural aspects too if the transformation is going to be successful.

Underpinning both crew welfare and operational efficiency is connectivity. During an interview on the sidelines, KVH’s Mark Woodhead made it clear that data generates insight  - and that by turning it into intelligence, shipowners and operators can identify and take the next logical step in their digital transformation. And this includes capacity for engine monitoring, ship optimisation and crew welfare applications. As BLUE’s Alisdair Pettigrew noted, the line was often blurred between the GST conference and its digital-heavy, future-facing sister event Shipping 2030 as digital solutions took an ever-more central role in the quest for efficiency and carbon savings. Digital innovations such as blockchain, Big Data and machine learning were mentioned in almost every panel – with strong views on either side as to whether shipping would be able to take full advantage of these technologies’ transformative effects, or struggle to adopt them and lose out to disrupters such as Amazon.

Whether you class shipping as conservative and traditional or innovative and forward-looking, what can be agreed upon is that the industry is experiencing and responding to a period of unparalleled change. And while the desire was shared by all at GST for a unified and optimistic pathway for a sustainable future for shipping, to be effective it requires buy-in and collaboration from industry actors right across the globe.

Discussions at the MEPC72 meeting in London this week, when shipping’s commitment to decarbonisation will be hotly debated, will further dictate the pace of change. If consensus of any kind can be achieved between such divergent views, ranging from no outright cap on carbon emissions to a 100% drop by 2035, it should prove instrumental in helping combat inertia when it comes to reducing GHG emissions from ships. Even IMO Secretary General Kitack Lim urged MEPC delegates "to break new ground and demonstrate the best cooperative spirit.”

This echoes the comments made by Wartsila’s Tamara de Gruyter at GST, calling on the industry to be bold, try new ideas, and share intelligence more freely. She called for a change in mindset and greater collaboration, which surely – innovator or laggard – everyone could sign up to in some way?

Photo by Kristoffer Trolle/CC BY 2.0

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