Renewable energy for shipping discussed in IMO debate

Decarbonized electricity and renewable electricity from hydropower covered at IMO 70 Forum.

Renewable energy and digitalisation were two key themes discussed at the IMO 70 Forum: 'Better Shipping. Better Future', which was held on May 15, 2018. Image credit: International Maritime Organization(IMO)

Updated on 16 May 2018 13:17 GMT

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) on Tuesday hosted a high-level, live-streamed debate on its role as a regulator in the future of shipping and international trade.

The debate on the future of the IMO was part of 70th anniversary events throughout this year; the initial IMO convention was adopted in 1948.

Panel moderator Richard Clayton, Chief Correspondent, Lloyd's List, said developments outside the shipping sector, particularly the renewable energy revolution and digitalisation, could have profound implications for shipping, and posed the question of how IMO regulations can keep pace with technological change.

Knut Orbeck Nilssen, chairman of IACS Council, and DNV GL's Maritime business area CEO, observed: "The maritime community is committed to finding solutions to reaching the ambitious IMO decarbonisation goal. Lots of research needs to be done."

Alan McKinnon, Professor of Logistics at Kuehne Logistics University and Emeritus Professor of Logistics at Heriot Watt University, posited that two themes could significantly change the business: a switch away from fossil fuels to alternative fuels, and 3D printing. "In light of recent developments, people are recalibrating their models, and additive manufacturing will have an effect in damping demand for seaborn freight.

"Electrification - maybe that's a black swan. Maybe by 2050 we will have found a way to include decarbonized electricity within the maritime sector. That would be transformational."

Peter Thomson, United Nations Secretary General's Special Envoy for the Ocean, spoke of his visit to the electric ferries in Norway, using renewable electricity from hydropower. This technology could benefit many African coastlines, he said.

"Lots of African countries have hydropower, and mainly coastal shipping," Thomson pointed out.

Diane Gilpin, Founder, Smart Green, Shipping Alliance, remarked: "Primary renewable energy is the key opportunity for shipping, and the way we implement that is collaboration. The IMO has shown it has the ability to bring disparate people together to reach groundbreaking agreements.

"We need to look at the enabling structures around green technology. We need to look at the financing structures used in renewable energy, and bring them over into the shipping industry."