A recently released report issued by The Blue Sky Coalition, a non-profit organization of leaders representing businesses in marine shipping, suggests that real-time monitoring is an essential component of an effective decarbonization strategy. Real-time monitoring is unique because, unlike other proposals, it can be immediately deployed and save maritime operators money (unlike punitive approaches) while still improving the environment.
I’ve become familiar with the public policy debate surrounding decarbonization through my work as a professor, and I’ve also immersed myself in the technologies associated with maritime decarbonization through my advisory work as Chairman of the Board at SailPlan. This company helps ships reduce their environmental footprint. While many policymakers are advancing important decarbonization proposals that will have an impact over the long term (such as changes to the types of fuels vessels use), more work is needed to reduce the climate impact of vessels today. That’s where real-time emissions monitoring comes in.
Decarbonization has been in the policy spotlight lately after the International Maritime Organization (IMO) released strict rules regarding the amount of greenhouse gasses (like carbon dioxide) emitted by vessels. The European Union also included vessels in its Emissions Trading System, a cap and trade program to limit greenhouse gasses. While the U.S. does not have such a regulatory regime, many predict these policies may be implemented. Regardless, the global nature of shipping has led companies to develop climate plans and invest in new technology to lower emissions – even without U.S. regulations.
Many in the maritime industry are discussing strategies toward a decarbonized shipping industry, which includes new fuels like hydrogen and ammonia, electrified fleets, and more. However, much of this technology won’t be online for years, and the proposals face other challenges. For example, alternative fuels are not price-competitive, unable to be used in older ships, and are not readily available. These fuels will be more accessible in the future, but alternative fuels are not a viable decarbonization solution today.
Any progress towards lower emissions in the maritime space would have a significant impact. Globally, vessels are responsible for 3% of greenhouse gas emissions yearly. To put that into context, if the maritime industry were a country, it would be considered the 6th largest greenhouse gas emitter. We know that as emissions continue to increase, climate change worsens. Still, many companies need to be incentivized to lower their emissions because doing so takes new infrastructure and investments that could be bad for business. The good news is that specific strategies to lower emissions also reduce overhead costs from fuel and maintenance.
An easily deployable decarbonization strategy we can focus on right now is efficiency. Blue Sky’s report focuses on technical and operational systems to optimize fuel use. Technical processes make physical improvements to the vessel, while operational processes change the way the vessel operates, such as changing speed or using different mixtures of fuel. Efficiency measures reduce fuel and time for vessel operators, leading to significant cost savings (an essential incentive for adoption) and greenhouse gas reductions. Real-time emissions monitoring is a cost-effective way to determine and/or justify technical and operational strategies automatically.
With real-time emissions technology, greenhouse gasses are considered “actionable.” More specifically, this technology measures greenhouse gasses from a vessel and shows those gasses in real time. Because greenhouse gasses are directly related to engine efficiency, the vessel operator can use this data to make adjustments that help the engine burn fuel better – saving money and emissions.
Real-time emissions technology is easy to install and represents a small investment given these large companies’ scale and operational budgets. Moreover, vessel operators make money from this technology because of fuel and maintenance savings. With real-time emissions monitoring, the average ship can prevent 616 tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere while saving $767,000 – the same as removing 130 cars from the road yearly.
The future of decarbonization in the shipping industry is uncertain – the technologies and fuels toward a net-zero future are not scalable yet. What we can do in the short term is optimize as much as possible. Real-time emissions monitoring is a technology solution that will incentivize companies to make the clean energy transition by saving them money and reducing their carbon footprint today, not in ten years. Real-time emissions monitoring should be front and center in all decarbonization policy discussions.
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