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During the age of coal, huge bulk carriers and colliers crisscrossed the globe, transporting anthracite and lignite. Of course, as the world weans itself off coal – with more and more sources becoming economically unviable to mine – and looks towards the cleaner and greener energy sources of tomorrow, ports still have an important role to play in shaping the future of energy.
Beyond the inherent reasons why coal is falling out of favour, there are also logistical issues to add to the mix. Several factors affect the actual cost of moving a bulk cargo by ship, such as the bulk freight market’s volatility, along with the type of cargo, the ship’s size, and the route travelled. The process of loading and unloading bulk carriers and colliers can be incredibly time consuming, especially when compared to containerised goods, as well as requiring enhanced health and safety procedures due to particulate matter.
With the IMO’s Sulphur Cap coming into force in 2020, there is also a greater incentive for shippers and terminal operators to collaborate together to encourage innovative and sustainable solutions to global logistics networks. For example, DP World’s Limassol terminal is collaborating with oil and gas firms in their work exploring and drilling the Aphrodite field. Conceptually, utilising the port-centric solution, it would be perfectly possible for the resources from the field to be processed on-site at the port to be usable in the next generation of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) ships.
It’s also important to remember that resources like oil and gas are not only valued for their energy content. As essential feedstocks in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, to name but a few, the uses and opportunities for these resources are growing significantly despite efforts to curb emissions. Again, within a port-centric environment, easy access to both feedstock and energy can help lower production costs and ease the logistics process. With our acquisition of Unifeeder, DP World operates the largest and most densely connected common user container feeder and an important and growing shortsea network in Europe, serving both deep-sea container hubs and the intra-Europe container freight market.
Also, in light of climate change and its already visible effects, port operators are becoming facilitators and supporters of the energy transition. As demand for cleaner energies increases, fossil fuels are slowly being complemented or replaced by renewable energy sources both on site of port operations and within the supply chain itself. To support this energy transition, DP World has taken up a key role by hosting renewable energy production and promoting its uptake across its global network.
In order to remain competitive in the future, port operators must adopt new types of cargo and novel methods of generating a maximum amount of sustainable energy. By working with energy customers in our terminals, and with other partners across the supply chain, sustainable and reliable energy is the foundation of our business’s future. The results of our Innovation Sandbox programme already speak for themselves, as we embark on the largest distributed solar rooftop project in the world.
But turning ports into energy centres requires a complete overhaul of how you think and how you act. Unlocking the exponential effects of disruption means you have to enable all your employees to use innovation and technology as a catalyst within different layers of your organisation. Such an approach cannot be distributed using a top-down approach; it involves analysing and rethinking the way in which we run our operations and how they can not only be future-proofed against the changing energy landscape, but also help bring it into fruition faster.
The wheels are in motion, and a low-carbon future is now inevitable. The question has changed from a ‘how?’ to a ‘when?’. As global port operators who stand to benefit from, and contribute to, this energy revolution, the foundations need to be put in place to create ports that are also energy centres. With technological advances and energy breakthroughs happening on a near yearly basis, those who don’t wise-up now, risk being left behind.