The road to Paris

Diane Gilpin from the Smart Green Shipping Alliance is writing exclusively for Splash this week on the UN climate talks. Here’s her first installment.

Actually I’m on the train. En route to the UN climate change conference, COP21, to take part in a shipping roundtable event on Tuesday organised by the International Chamber of Shipping, Norwegian Shipowners Association and Armateurs de France. We’re going to discuss ‘shipping as part of the climate solution’.

As CEO of the Smart Green Shipping Alliance (SGSA), I’m representing my team of brilliant, creative and dedicated naval architects, marine engineers, yacht designers, academics. We are committed to developing 21st century technology solutions to benefit shipping, weaving our collective knowledge, experience and technologies from renewables, F1, offshore yacht racing, aviation, defence, automotive into deep understanding of the incumbent shipping system.

The industry’s missing out on a huge untapped opportunity in renewable energy. A quick glance onshore will confirm a rapid and transformational shift to renewables. This is triggering old, established business models to rethink their future. Once we get our heads round the idea of free energy, for ever business can transition to more stable, predictable and resilient operational models.

The maritime sector has access to vast amounts of free energy, as any seafarer will testify! Maritime renewables are abundantly and exclusively available to shipping – in a fuel constrained future that’s critically important, it provides fuel autonomy and energy security by, at least partial, decoupling from traditional bunkering arrangements. Free fuel builds certainty in to operational planning allowing more room to maneuver in other cost centres. Wind, waves, solar – all have maritime applications. Those who harness it most efficiently will be the new 21st century energy tycoons.

The SGSA has designed a renewable powered sailing-hybrid vessel and a big data techno-economic analysis system to support its operation. It’s been model tested and shown to save 50% fuel against conventional ships on the same routes.

We’ve talked to a lot to cargo owner/shippers because they have to meet their own ambitious corporate and domestic carbon reduction commitments. They need to find significant carbon savings in their supply chains and the shipping sector currently isn’t offering the type of ambitious solutions they need.

To support the introduction of maritime renewables these shippers are committing to 10-year contracts with us to give added security for our build financing.

So, on the one hand we have advanced technology and on the other we have strong industry demand. We’re now talking to shipowners about joining the Alliance the deliver the contracts and it is surprisingly difficult to get engagement. Everyone embraces the rationale, recognizes the financial, commercial advantages that a step change in fuel saving could bring but there’s complacency – “we’re already the most efficient form of transport” – and lack of certainty about which way the wind will blow on carbon regulations which leads to inertia. Given the scale of the carbon problem we all face kicking the can down the road only delays the inevitable when adapting to market needs will be more expensive and more painful.

Let’s be clear maritime renewables offer technical, commercial and environmentally superior shipping solutions. A new generation of talent would be attracted to an industry ambitiously embracing this global challenge. There’d be great media coverage.

So, do I think shipping part of the solution? Not yet. It’s done well in achieving international energy efficiency agreements but let’s be clear – efficiency is not enough we need to unleash step-change technologies to have a hope of keeping below 2o of warming. Shipping will benefit from clear, visionary leadership. Without it valuable opportunities are being missed. There is a great potential to make a very real contribution to the global carbon challenge and in so doing reinvigorate the whole sector through new technology and innovation. Commitment to ambitious absolute carbon reductions would unleash a new era of opportunity in the sector.

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