Ship efficiency technologies ready to set sail
With banks casting a leery eye at fuel-gobbling vessels, shipowners turn to speedy retrofits to take advantage of wind power.
Last week, as the world’s leading maritime players gathered in Oslo for the 50th Nor-Shipping conference, Norsepower Oy Ltd. shared the successful trial of its Rotor Sail Solution, a wind propulsion technology for maritime ships. Verified by ship design and operation software modeling firm NAPA and supported by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Norsepower’s trials confirm fuel savings of 2.6 percent using a single small Rotor Sail on a route in the North Sea. With these fuel savings, this new wind propulsion technology has a payback period of just four years.
The Norsepower Rotor Sail Solution is a modernized version of the Flettner rotor, a spinning vertical cylinder that harnesses wind power to propel a ship. The rotor generates thrust for the same reason that a spinning baseball curves through the air after it’s thrown: the Magnus effect. When air moves across a rotating body, it exerts a force perpendicular to the direction of the air.
In favorable wind conditions, Norsepower Rotor Sails allow the vessel to throttle back the main engines, supplying the power needed to maintain speed and voyage time while reducing fuel and emissions. Rotor Sails can be installed on new vessels or retrofitted on existing ships without requiring the vessel — a potentially multi-million-dollar asset — to be out of service, known as off-hire.
Norsepower’s target installation for vessels is four large rotors installed on one vessel. With these larger installations, Norsepower forecasts substantial savings of 20 percent for vessels traveling on favorable wind routes. Norsepower’s announcement is heralded as a major advancement for shipping.
A smart time to invest in efficiency
Of course, this is just one technology. However, the announcement comes at an important time — when efficiency solutions finally have the opportunity to take off in the shipping industry.
Historically, when fuel prices have risen, the focus on technologies such as Norsepower’s in the shipping industry has intensified. But as soon as fuel prices drop, attention drifts back to other priorities, even though these technologies offer returns no matter the fuel price.
Now, market trends are converging to create promise for efficiency technologies, despite low fuel prices. A growing number of stakeholders, including charterers (those that rent ships), banks, port authorities and ship registries, are prioritizing efficiency. With this growing prioritization, these parties are starting to shift money towards and reward more efficient vessels.
For example, charterers representing 20 percent of global shipped tonnage have policies in place to avoid using the most inefficient ships based on the GHG Emissions Rating, developed by maritime risk-management specialist RightShip and Carbon War Room. That’s a 450 percent increase in the past 2.5 years, and we expect that number to continue growing in the coming years.
Complementing this progress, ambitious leaders, such as those behind Norsepower and Bore, are demonstrating the viability of efficiency technologies — as well as the financial gains they offer — and creating greater credibility for emerging technologies. In fact, with the results from the single-rotor trial, Bore is already looking ahead to the opportunity of two rotors on one ship.
“We are proud to be the first ship owner to install the Norsepower Rotor Sail, and demonstrate that wind propulsion technology has verifiable 5 percent fuel savings on a yearly basis, can be retrofitted without any off-hire costs, and is extremely easy to use in practice. It’s our goal to find ways to establish sustainable shipping with minimal impact on our environment,” said Jörgen Mansnerus, vice president of Bore.
The Norsepower announcement is one of many such trials that can pave the way to a low-carbon shipping industry. However, finding companies willing to pioneer technologies on their vessels is no easy feat. Building such confidence in emerging technologies is the integral focus of Carbon War Room and University College London’s Shipping Innovation Fast-Tracker (SHIFT), in which Norsepower participates alongside other technology companies. The program matches innovative technology companies, shipowners and operators, and investors to boost the profile of low-carbon opportunities and promote investment in the industry.
Why charters should ride this wave
Fuel buyers can buttress their balance sheets by adopting fuel-saving technologies, automatically protecting them from the pressures of a tenuous oil market. What makes the proposition even more enticing is that successful technologies, such as the Rotor Sail Solution, exist today, and can be deployed and scaled quickly.
“Modern wind systems are demonstrating measurable and meaningful fuel savings for ships. As wind propulsion, air bubble systems and other groundbreaking technologies are increasingly adopted and become mainstream, the industry will reap the rewards of lower fuel costs — more sustainable than those from short-term price decreases, and be able to stay ahead of external pressures,” said Jose Maria Figueres, chair of the board of Rocky Mountain Institute and Carbon War Room.
In addition, by incorporating these successful technologies into new builds and existing vessels, shipowners can stay ahead of policy. While the industry’s existing fleet is not currently subject to stringent policy measures or mandates to meet efficiency requirements, such policy could arrive and leave the industry in a pinch, if it is not prepared. And, if such policy arises, shipowners that already have retrofitted will stand to gain an additional competitive advantage.
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