BPA: Critical Energy Hubs of the Future

Credits: Ronan Furuta/Unsplash

Ports play a vital role as energy hubs of the future, states a Safety4Sea.

Importance of ports in industry’s decarbonization journey

In an exclusive interview to SAFETY4SEA, Richard Ballantyne, Chief Executive, British Ports Association, representing over 400 ports and facilities that collectively handle 86% of the UK’s seaborne trade, highlights the importance of ports in industry’s decarbonization journey.

In particular, the UK ports have understood their positive role as ‘energy hubs of the future’ as the country moves towards a more decentralised energy system with the role out of offshore wind and the transition to alternative fuels. In that regard, greater collaboration across all industry stakeholders along with promoting ports to all tiers of government are essential in securing a more sustainable future, Mr. Ballantyne says.

Sustainable future

SAFETY4EA: What are your top priorities in the BPA agenda for the next 5 years?

Richard Ballantyne: To encourage the UK and devolved governments to continue to be the Freeports agenda but rolling out the benefits to all ports that want them. To promote ports to all tiers of government and improve the appreciation of what our sector does and the people who work in it. Also, to encourage collaborative approaches on decarbonisation with an industry tool and promote innovation across the sector. To push for more pro port government policies to stimulate growth as well as encourage policy makers to improve transport and energy connectivity and planning frameworks.

S4S: What will be the biggest challenges for the maritime industry from your perspective? How these will affect the industry and how are you preparing to face them?

R.B.: Probably environmental and whilst challenging there is definitely a positive role ports can play. Decarbonisation, new fuels and energy connectivity and storage will be pivotal to the performance of other economic activities like shipping and haulage. But ports can become energy hubs as well as gateways for goods and passengers.

S4S: What does ‘sustainability’ mean for the UK ports and how can they address the critical issue of climate change?

R.B: Ports are beginning to reposition themselves as energy hubs of the future as the country moves towards a more decentralised energy system with the role out of offshore wind and the transition to alternative fuels. Around 25% of Europe’s offshore wind resources are located in Scotland and this domestically generated renewable electricity will play a key role in decarbonising the UK power system with ports at the centre of this transition. The UK needs port facilities, combining the substantial depth of water with their heavy-lifting capacity and extensive quayside space to enable the fabrication, assembly and transport of floating offshore wind turbines and their foundations. As we move towards alternative fuels, the maritime sector as a whole will be integral in the transportation and distribution of these new fuels, such as hydrogen and methanol, around the globe. In the context of the wider supply chain, many of these new fuels will likely be imported into the UK and stored in our ports, supporting the decarbonisation of the maritime sector and the wider supply chain.

S4S: From your perspective, what are the key barriers that the maritime industry is currently facing with regards to decarbonization? What are your suggestions to turn these into opportunities?

R.B.: It is important to note that the majority of emissions in ports, approximately 98%, is produced from port users, either from tenants or vessels entering into the port area. That being said, UK ports are aware that they have a role to play in decarbonisation of the maritime sector and are a part of the solution. UK ports operate on a commercial basis and investment and spending therefore must have a viable business case, however, key barriers such as high capital costs, technology readiness, financial risks and information and safety concerns remain, to allow ports to put forward a case for investment in new fuels and infrastructure to support the energy transition.  UK ports are already working to turn these challenges into opportunities through increased collaboration with industry-wide stakeholders and are taking significant steps towards reducing their emissions, for instance, transitioning their own fleet to operate on interim fuels such as Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO).

S4S: Do you believe the maritime industry is moving in the right direction? What do you see as the defining ESG trends driving maritime toward the future?

R.B.: The maritime sector is a hard to abate sector when it comes to reducing GHG emissions and significant hurdles remain to fully decarbonise by mid-century. That being said, there is clear evidence that UK ports and the wider maritime sector are taking substantial steps to meet agreed reduction targets.

S4S: What is your wish list for the industry and/or regulators and all parties involved for the port sector? 

R.B.: As mentioned, BPA is supportive of the Freeports agenda, but would encourage government to consider expanding this to all ports who wish to be a part of it, to allow for equal spread of opportunities. BPA welcomed the recent £77m Zero Emission Vessels and Infrastructure (ZEVI) funding competition launched by the UK Government this year to support the development, deployment and operation of clean maritime solutions. Additional schemes and financial support is required to support ports in meeting their targets.

S4S: Where do UK ports stand with electrification? What is needed for a widespread adoption of shore power?

R.B.: There is no doubt that going forward ports will require greater capacity in order to electrify their own fleet, as well as, provide shore power connections for vessels at berth, however, many barriers remain to support widespread uptake. High capital costs for installing the infrastructure inside the ports and the high costs and charges for any remedial work needed on the local distribution network, including additional capacity, new substations and network reinforcements, leads to a lack of a business case for UK ports to invest in shore power. For widespread adoption, substantial financial support will be needed, as well as, greater and consistent demand from the shipping side to ensure that any extra power that is required will be utilised.

S4S: If you could change one thing across the industry from your perspective, what this would be and why?

R.B.: Whilst most UK ports are in the BPA there are still a handful of operators outside the Association so if I could change one thing we’d get them all in to increase the network and collective lobby that would mean even more when communicating with government. Growing the network further remains an aim of the BPA and supporting port professionals across all levels and roles is something we do very well. Being in the BPA is essentially one indication of a progressive and responsible organisation so encouraging more port companies to understand and appreciate what we do is something actively do.

S4S: Do you have any new projects/ plans that you would like to share with industry stakeholders?

R.B.: BPA is working towards launching our Decarbonisation Programme in 2023 which will provide UK ports with a variety of tools and information to support them in the energy transition. The annual BPA Conference will also be taking place in London this year sponsored by the Port of London Authority.

S4S: What is your key message to industry stakeholders with regards to a more sustainable future for the shipping industry?

R.B.: UK Ports understand the pivotal role that they play in the decarbonisation of the maritime industry and welcome the ample opportunities that this transition brings. However, ports cannot embark on this transition alone and greater collaboration across industry, along with promoting ports to all tiers of government will be key in securing a sustainable future for the sector.

The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of  SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion  purposes only.

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Source: Safety4Sea