Over the past 18 months, there has been an increasingly strong focus on new low and zero carbon marine fuels as the dominant means of reducing shipping emissions. The fuels debate is taking centre stage in investment, as well as legislation, argues Mr.Simon Potter, Director of Sustainability Advisory at Houlder.
hile this heavy focus on alternative fuels is understandable (the emissions reduction opportunity is huge), there is a risk it will distract the industry and its funders from the significant opportunities to invest in an abundance of renewable and sustainable propulsion technology (clean technology) that is available now.
More carrots and sticks please
The EU’s ‘Fit for 55’ package, for example, includes strict measures on alternative fuels to achieve the targets outlined in the European Green Deal – a 55% reduction in emissions by 2030 relative to 1990 and climate neutrality by 2050 including shipping emissions.
One policy measure outlined in ‘Fit for 55’ is FuelEU Maritime – set to come into effect in 2025 – which will put a limit on the greenhouse gas intensity of fuels used in maritime transport. While this is an encouraging move, regulators should also offer more commercial incentives for the adoption of maritime clean technology or disincentives for those ignoring it.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is also set to introduce its new carbon intensity indicator (CII) rating system from 2023 onwards. Again, while this is a largely positive move, there is a real risk of unintended consequences emerging.
The majority of ship owners may do little but limit the power of their ships’ engines and ‘slow steam’ while waiting for alternative fuels to emerge at scale, rather than invest in innovative, commercially-ready clean technologies.
While slow steaming is better than nothing, it is a pessimistic approach. It should not be the sole means of reducing fuel use because it also reduces the amount of goods that the existing fleet can ship in a given period. This means more ships will be required – making the challenge of vessel replacement even bigger as worldwide cargo demand continues to grow.
Ripe low hanging fruit
Clean technology is essential to significantly reducing fuel costs, fuel use and therefore emissions. It is increasingly clear that future fuels will be expensive and less energy-dense than current fuel, meaning any fuel efficiency gains that can be attained are critical.
Clean technology also often represents ‘low hanging fruit’. That is to say, it is often cost and time efficient to install, especially when compared to alternative fuel capabilities. Most clean technology can be fitted without taking the vessel out of service or quickly installed at a scheduled dry docking period. This is particularly important right now because, with such strong container freight rates and charter rates, owners must maximise the trading time of a vessel.
Most clean technology investments offer a clear cash and carbon return on investment (ROI). These two returns are increasingly intertwined as carbon taxes such as the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) put an additional cost on emissions. The EU ETS is expected to be implemented from 2023 and the price of EU allowances (EUAs) will increase. Therefore, in terms of ROI, reducing emissions should be more attractive than buying additional emissions allowances.
Clean technology can also be applied to the existing fleet, meaning it can have an impact on a ship’s emissions today and for the future. It is likely that alternative fuels will not be residual, commoditised products for decades. Inaction is simply not an option and the existing fleet is often overlooked.
Don’t forget the leafy greens
The existing fleet is worth about $1.8 trillion and most of that sits on bank balance sheets, which constitutes significant risk if these assets are not managed properly through the industry’s decarbonisation. Both owners and funders should jump at the opportunity to extend the life and enhance the value of existing assets using clean technology.
Favourable green financing is also available for many clean technology projects. The Poseidon Principles provides evidence that green thinking in finance is becoming the norm, not the exception. While there was good social intention behind the principles, the real driver behind signing up was a hard commercial fact. Banks are recognising that assets which aren’t green will become worthless.
The simple maxim in private equity is that you will invest in a bad business with a good management team before you would invest in a good business with a bad one. A good management team is one that recognises the challenges and the opportunities presented by decarbonisation. It also has a wide-reaching and well-thought-out plan to overcome these challenges and leverage opportunities.
There is an unequivocal rationale for investment in clean technology and it should form an important part of any healthy and balanced maritime decarbonisation strategy. It is important to revaluate the green investments assessed in the past; the chances are, even if regulations prioritise alternative fuels, clean technology now has a strong business case.
The views presented are only those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.