The tricky transition from oil

Zane Berry from MCA Consulting on the multi-fuel choices facing shipping.

Since my last article in January 2020 on the difficulties facing vessel owners for fuel and engine selection for newbuild ships there has been a few new shipbuilding contracts signed across the shipyards of the world, sometimes even 20 vessels ordered and the choices seems to be LNG or hybrid with some interest in ammonia also.

But essentially the ‘wait and see’ philosophy approach seems to be holding and there is sense in the pragmatism but ultimately there is no silver bullet in sight for the fuel quandry. It can be said that wider society finds itself in the same situation now facing in a similar energy quandary as we aim to tackle carbon.

All technologies currently available for the generation of energy come with a price and with an estimated global energy consumption of 446bn kWh per day it’s a big price!

Today oil provides around 100m barrels per day towards that energy appetite and the rest of the burden is duly met from coal, nuclear, wind, solar and hydro but with such mind-boggling numbers it has of course become apparent that there is no single fix.

If we jump back in history just an eye blink we see that the industrial revolution and then the age of oil exploitation has supercharged our civilisations for over 150 years, leading to huge strides in technology, medicine, hygiene, transportation, food production even the more abstract such as education should give a nod to the abundance of energy, basically oil or at least fossil fuel. Due to the success and massive population growth the carbon solution is evidently not sustainable.

The recent motivation to bring down emissions and reduce other societal impacts on our environment, such as single use plastics or deforestation can only be a good thing and governments are setting us challenges to take this on. The consequences of a mismanaged energy transition would be disastrous as we can see in energy constricted countries where poverty, disease and starvation are prevalent. Supply blips in developed counties bring economic hardship, any more prolonged shortages would, as they say ‘put us back in the dark ages’.

Without a single technological solution being available, the challenge is to manage a transition away from carbon reliance in a way that doesn’t put large parts of the world into crisis. It would seem this is a generational challenge that cannot be delivered in a single generation but will need to be passed to our children and theirs.

Institutions leading the way are busying themselves gathering data on a massive scale having identified that mistakes have been made in the past and going down false paths opens the door to the competition and wastes resources. Despite the rhetoric ‘something must be now!’ those organisations that are taking small steps discretely, constantly self-evaluating, updating and doing the hard work of organisational and behavioural change are making real breakthroughs.

Sails on super tankers has been done before and sexy CGI pictures look good but sadly are a waste of investment and people’s attention. Better look to smart tech like cameras that can pick up methane slip at fuel bunkering or minor engine modification that can make a big emissions savings straight away or installation of IoT networks on vessel systems that can bring about a new level of insight in to how we can really optimise today.

There are new ways to make small savings emerging all the time but collecting real data and making appropriate use of it will play a massive role in getting the energy transition right, it will be the difference between success and failure. They say data is the new oil and it may very well prove to be in many unexpected ways.


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