Wind at sea: universal and free. File image/Pixabay
When we consider the eye-watering challenge of decarbonising the global shipping fleet, people frequently say: 'There is no silver bullet.'
Then, in quick succession, several papers are published pointing to the best ways of achieving zero-emission fossil fuel replacements. All of them come with significant challenges. Is it hydrogen? Ammonia? Biofuels?
So it was most refreshing to read the International Chamber of Shipping on February 11 pointing to the need for "massive investment in R&D of zero CO2 emitting propulsion systems". Framing the challenge in the context of propulsion systems, rather than just a like-for-like fuel replacement, will deliver much faster decarbonisation for the whole fleet.
Consider the wind. It is free, abundant and exclusively available to any ship equipped to harness it. It provides direct thrust to the vessel. People object to deploying it: 'Wind is unpredictable,' they say.
Yet no one I've met is prepared to predict what the cost of oil might be in 10 months or 10 years. Or if there will be a meaningful carbon price. We're used to unpredictability and have developed systems to manage it.
Diane Gilpin, CEO Smart Green Shipping Alliance
The more wind power you harness, the more autonomy from volatile fuel prices you enjoy.
It's change we baulk at.
I argue that wind is more predictable than market-based fuels (either fossil or bio). Decades of historical meteorological data show statistical trends in wind speeds and direction and enables quantification the value of wind on any route.
Some routes won't be viable, other will. Actual wind availability may vary from year to year but the accuracy of trends allows for the potential for insuring against 'odd' years.
Wind will always be free. It is not traded and it's not going to be subject to the vagaries of the market.
The more wind power you harness the more autonomy from volatile fuel prices you enjoy.
It's a strategy that protects your bottom line from IMO2020 while reduceing your dependency on whatever zero-carbon fuel comes out on top over the next few years. It also puts you ahead in whatever combination of operational efficiency metrics and speed regulation the IMO implements before 2023, as part of its "short term measures" to cut CO2.
A hybrid system of wind plus new fuel types is ultimately where we're going, but getting the former installed early will make the latter cheaper.
Urgent investment into wind technologies on suitable ships means we immediately begin to reduce emissions from the global fleet, gaining goodwill from governments and our customers. It's always going to be a challenge, but deploying 21st century wind technologies buys us time.