Taking up the challenge for greener inland shipping

inland shipping A need to confront change for greener inland shipping success

From fuel choices to finance models, the challenges of ‘greening’ inland shipping are complex, delegates heard at the PLA’s London conference. Felicity Landon reports

‘We are all going to have to confront change’ said the Port of London Authority (PLA) chairman Christopher Rodrigues, as he reflected on a full day of discussions at the PLA’s Greening Inland Shipping conference, held as part of London International Shipping Week.

Speakers had covered the political and environmental context, international projects, the lessons learned from specific case studies, and how green tech for inland vessels can be financed. The conference focus overall was on accelerating the adoption of cleaner propulsion technologies on the Thames.

Mr. Rodrigues said anyone speaking out for improving air quality was hardly going to be shouted down – but he warned: “I think the regulatory horizon is going to tighten in on us much more quickly than people might think.”

Shifting to greener vessels and fuels to reduce or eliminate emissions “isn’t going to be a free choice for operators for very much longer – five to ten years, perhaps,” he said. “You need to think about it, and so do we. At the PLA we talk a lot about how do we create a green river. We have to show leadership.”

The maritime sector and shipping is playing ‘catch-up’ when it comes to lowering its carbon footprint, whether in terms of air quality or GHG emissions, said Robin Mortimer, chief
executive of the PLA. “If you look at the long-term picture, while other sectors de-carbon fast, shipping has taken time to catch up. That means, if we look forward, we will become a bigger proportion of the challenge.”

Shirley Rodrigues, the Greater London Authority’s deputy mayor for the environment and energy, described air pollution as a global crisis and said millions of Londoners ‘breathe in air so filthy that it shortens life expectancy’. More than two million Londoners live in areas exceeding the legal limits for NOx, she added.

As road traffic emissions are increasingly brought under control in the capital, so the river’s emissions will grow as a proportion, she warned. “We are working very hard with stakeholders such as the PLA to make sure the River Thames doesn’t become an underachiever compared to other modes.”

This is a tricky balance for the PLA, which has worked hard to promote the benefits of moving freight by water. In 2017, 3.4m tonnes of freight was moved between wharfs on the Thames, which equates to taking 340,000 lorries off London’s roads.

Several speakers highlighted regulatory confusion, especially relating to London. The tidal Thames has 21 regulators in all, the conference heard – including the PLA, the GLA, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the Canal and River Trust and all the riparian boroughs neighbouring the river.

“This means there cannot be a level playing field,” said the deputy mayor. “We continue to press our case for a single regulatory regime. We need more clarity and simplification – the existing system means we don’t know quite what is going on and people don’t want to take up new technology because it is not being driven by one regulator. We need that regime to support that change. We can’t wait for natural churn and inactivity by some to respond to the climate emergency.”

Robin Mortimer agreed: “It needs looking at, the regulatory regime is very fragmented and we are willing to look at whether there is a different role for the PLA in this.”

Figures for 2016 showed that domestic shipping counted for 10% of UK total domestic NOx and ten times more SOx than road transport, said Claire McAllister, deputy director at the Department for Transport.

“Society is demanding change across all industries. This is not just shipping,” she said. The UK’s focus has traditionally been on how change could be achieved through international means, she added. “The global nature of shipping means we have global challenges. But also, there is value in having a UK-specific strategy to complement that international effort and lead change – we want to be a global leader.”

She noted that the UK became the first major economy to pass a net zero emissions law and that while this will not apply to international shipping, it will apply to inland shipping.

Time is of the essence, she said, if emissions targets set out in Maritime 2050 and in the Clean Maritime Plan are to be met. The DfT is requiring all English ports to have air quality plans in place by next year, it has put out a call for evidence from domestic shipping for proposals moving forward, and it is to launch a consultation on the possible expansion of the North Sea ECA.

Hege Økland, general manager maritime at the Norwegian cluster NCE Maritime CleanTech, described the innovation approach in the cluster, Norway’s push for zero-emission ferries and the way that this technology is being transferred to other segments, including offshore and coastal vessels.

She also outlined the EU TrAM project which is which is focusing on advanced modular production so that standardised green vessel models can be used, taking a lesson from the mass production of the car industry.

Thames Clippers set out its plans for the UK’s first all-electric ferry, destined for the Thames at Rotherhithe, and Hans Thornell of Green City Ferries, outlined an all-electric ferry
which floats on a cushion of air to reduce friction. The hydrogen-focused projects HySeas III and FLAGSHIPS were also covered.

Ports have their part to play in greening shipping, including providing onshore power supply, said Annet van Lier, the programme manager for CLINSH (CLean INland Shipping),
another European project. “One of the things we are trying to promote is onshore power supply. It has been installed in Ghent and Nijmegen and will provide a best practice guide for ports and local authorities to select the appropriate OPS solution,” she said.

A point raised by speakers and audience during the conference was the speed of technology development and the reluctance of operators and others to invest without clarity on
future regulation and certainty on future technology.

“It took us quite some time to get ship operators participating [in CLINSH) because they were very hesitant to invest in anytechnology not knowing whether it would be approved or have to be different again in five years from now,” said Ms van Lier.

Hege Økland said: “The lesson I have learned from working on projects is the speed of technology development. It is crucial to have close collaboration with partners outside the traditional value chain. You need to involve grid owners, harbours, maybe other transport sectors, especially for hydrogen.

Donato Agostinelli Capaldo, business development general manager at Wartsila, said: “I think a lot of the inaction is because there is no clear path forward and things change so fast that people are standing by to see what happens. But these are exciting times to be in because we are part of the change and can contribute if we want to do so.”

Bjorn Gunnerholm of the Blue Advisory Group, commented: “There are so many misconceptions that going green is going to cost a lot more and we can’t afford to do it until we see some new technology development. It is not true. Going hybrid/ electric/for fuel cells will reduce pollution and reduce cost in terms of poor health – and ship owners/operators will reduce their opex.”

New financial methods might include leasing models and there are investors looking to invest money into green projects, he said.

PLA launches practical roadmap

Chief executive Robin Mortimer announced at the conference that the PLA is launching a road map exercise with sustainable energy consultant E4tech, “to help us work out on
practical terms how we get from A to B, how we employ these technologies on the river – looking at the technologies, opportunities, costs, etc., to get from theory to practice.”

The PLA has been something of green pioneer in the UK. In 2017, it was the first port in the UK to offer a discount for vessels with lower emissions – the discount was doubled
to 10% this year, and the PLA is considering extending the ‘Green Tariff’ to inland vessels.

London was also the first in the UK to set out a detailed, long-term Air Quality Strategy to reduce emissions, and recently purchased the UK’s first hybrid pilot cutter.

The PLA is a partner in the Cross-River Partnership, which has been granted £500,000 from the Mayor’s Air Quality Fund to retrofit 11 river vessels, including tugs and passenger vessels, with the aim of cutting their emissions by up to 90%.

This is part of the Clean Air Thames project, in which the GLA, the City of London and vessel operators are also partners.


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