Need for affordable innovation

Industry Database

COMMENT: While reading that the life expectancy of a Fortune 100 company is now 15 years (and declining) and that we might be approaching “peak stuff” (i.e. people are buying less) in the West, I got worried about the future role of ports, writes Charles Haine.

The top-ranking global companies in 2030 do not yet exist — you may have dropped off a future chief executive at primary school this morning — so the speed of change across industry, technology and societies is heady. For smaller regional ports and trusts the challenges of fluctuating markets have catalysed a need to be opportunistic and agile.

The north-east of the UK has countered a decline in traditional cargo such as coal by working with the oil and gas, marine renewables, power cabling and telecoms sectors, in search of income stability. Bigger port authorities, under pressure to meet mega-scale, are also taking stock of their owned space. Some are diversifying into logistics, property management — such as the Port of Amsterdam renting to entrepreneurial start-ups — and becoming generators of energy.

This ‘energy dynamic’ is already playing a key role, for instance ports becoming a hub for power companies in Eeemshaven or a stepping stone to offshore wind farms in Hull and Great Yarmouth.

Beyond Europe, there are serious reliability issues with power supply, as reported in Africa and Australia. Last December, blackout-buster Mr Musk took a timeout from planning the SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch, and proposing underground electric pods for Chicago’s new city-airport link, to install the world’s biggest lithium-ion battery near Adelaide. Pundits were shocked at the ‘initial tweet’ offer to ‘successful delivery’ in 60 days.

The system smooths out power supplies, shares peak in usage and lowers demand charges. I can see battery powerpacks appearing in those port locations where multiple 300 gallons-per-day generators need to kick-in regularly. Connectivity to a wind or solar farm, and the grid, is required but it won’t be long before this fossil fuel-free approach — currently assisting municipalities, agriculture, schools and homes — will become part of port infrastructure.

The need for affordable innovation is cropping-up in many conversations — from its role in design and construct through to its priority billing in the UK’s new Maritime Growth Study Review. Energy is where the sustainability debate is likely to gain traction. After all, with the price of energy set to double within 15 years, and customers seeking cleaner supply chains, smarter investment in longer-term “cost-saving initiatives seems a logical strand of business continuity.

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