INTERVIEW: Uptake of Wind Power Gathers Momentum, Approaches 'Critical Mass' as Maritime Decarbonisation Tech

by Ship & Bunker News Team
Friday June 21, 2024

If recent orders for wind propulsion systems are any indication, adoption of the technology is gathering momentum as its use on modern, commercial ships is now seen as a truly viable option for vessel owners and operators.

Only last month Ship & Bunker reported MOL is fitting a further 7 vessels with a telescopic hard sail system and one with a suction wing sytem as part of a goal of 25 wind-powered vessels by 2030, and Marflet Marine is fitting four Bound4blue 'eSail' suction sails on oil and chemical tanker Santiago I.

This month saw Union Maritime announce BAR TechnologiesWindWings hard sail system will be installed on 34 of its newbuild vessels, including 14 LR2s, 2 chemical tankers, and 8 MR tankers.

The orders are part of an overall upswing in wind-assisted propulsion system orders as the technology approaches 'critical mass' as a means of maritime decarbonisation, according to industry body the International Windship Association (IWSA).

Overall, the technology is now being considered much more widely in the shipping industry than it has previously, Gavin Allwright, the organisation's secretary general, told Ship & Bunker.

Wind-assisted power systems allow modern commercial ships to use wind power for a part of their propulsion, reducing bunker bills and GHG emissions.

As the cost of producing emissions from fossil oil bunkers begins to rapidly increase, and ship owners and operators look to adopt far more expensive low-to-no carbon fuels as a result, the ROI from adopting bunker saving technologies such as wind power becomes increasingly compelling.
"The business model is certainly important and I think there is a growing realisation that 2030 targets are virtually impossible if wind and energy efficiency and voyage optimisation aren't embraced," says Allwright.

"If you are taking wind in isolation then 5-20% reductions in fuel cost and emissions is deliverable without any changes to existing shipping practices, but if you are able to route for wind and further optimise operations with ETA's, speed etc. then further free energy can be harnessed.
"Primary wind ships are also increasingly being adopted, currently at the small level under 1000GT but larger vessels are under construction.

"Thus wind is being seen as a clear and present option for compliance to new regulation and lowering of fuel bills. It is also being seen as a bit of a no-brainer when it will pay for itself and doesn't require infrastructure and supply chains to deliver the energy."


We don't even have to go back as far as a decade to find a time when most in the industry considered the idea of wind-powered commercial ships preposterous.

"I would say that there is still skepticism out there, and we welcome a healthy, measured assessment of wind propulsion systems," says Allwright.

But today, the range of wind technologies available and more importantly, the number of actual orders and real word installations of those technologies speak for themselves.

"Our members collectively have done a huge amount of work to build a solid foundation of certification, testing, validation etc to ensure these are robust systems that fit the needs and challenges of today's shipping fleet, but also align with where we need to take that fleet in the future," Allwright says.

"This cautious, methodical and industry/regulatory-aligned approach has taken time to deliver, however we are now seeing this come together with a near-critical mass of demonstrator vessels and regulatory and financial pressure starting to bite.

"In fact, at the end of the day, visiting and sailing on a wind powered or wind-assisted vessel is the best way to change perceptions of a 21st century industrial solution for a 21st century problem."

Building Momentum, De-Risking Adoption

Tightening emissions regulations and the availability of multiple mature wind-power products all naturally help with the technology's adoption.

But perhaps more importantly, Allwright says the growing uptake of the technology has taken it to an important first stage of market maturity.

"As I understand it, the decision making processes in the industry are fueled by having enough points of reference within a particular segment to start derisking the decision to go with a particular technology," he explained.

"For example: Step 1 - having 3+ similar tech installations. Step 2 – having 3+ similar tech installations among bulkers. Step 3 – having 3+ installations of that tech on a Capesize or Geared vessels.

"As each step is reached, this encourages additional later adopters to assess and make decisions.

"We have reached the transition from step 2 to step 3 in a number of segments, thus the momentum is starting to show in those segments especially."

There is also a similar process at work within the finance and insurance sectors, Allwright adds, which will impact how they price risk around various technology developments.

There is also a learning curve both in the shipyards and within the providers of wind technology, which is now starting to feed through to lowering lead times, installations times, and production costs.
As all these factors continue to come together, Allwright expects the momentum to keep building and fully expects the number of wind power installations to double at a minimum every year in the coming years.