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Electrify Shipping: The Key To Tackling Climate Change

Reaching our climate change goals will not be the result of one initiative, one policy, one company, or one solution

If we don’t drastically reduce our emissions – and tackle the climate crisis now – we’ll run out of time. To have productive conversations, to take impactful action, to rewind the effects of climate change, all of it.

It’s a statement most of us already know is true, but few want to hear. Let alone say.

Climate change is the most prevalent issue we face, and it could be the most significant hurdle in human history. Extreme droughts, flooding, ocean acidification, and biodiversity loss aren’t scenes written for a movie set in a post-apocalyptic society. They’re disasters we’re already facing and at an alarming rate.

Keeping global temperatures within 1.5 or two degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels means redirecting our attention towards the hard-to-abate industries – the ones that need the most drastic, revolutionary change.

Shipping is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gasses, far surpassing aviation, agriculture, you name it. But as an industry, it presents historical challenges. Yes, its negative impact on the planet is practically unsurpassable, but it’s simultaneously responsible for the highest levels of global trade.

Currently, around 11 billion tons of goods are transported via ship each year. Reducing shipping trade may reduce GHG emissions, but there’s no saying its replacement (say, aviation taking up the global trade mantel) will serve our planet any better. Reduce trade, and you reduce supply, not to mention the world economy.

Suddenly, we’re presented with new but equally as challenging considerations. The pieces of the puzzle may fit, but it doesn’t make for an attractive picture.

The only real answer? Change the picture

If we’re going to reach net zero by our targeted 2050, the shipping industry has no choice but to electrify its operations. More specifically, adopt advanced battery technology.

Electric vehicles and modes of transport have been a hot topic for a while now. In October 2022, US President Joe Biden pledged to award US$2.8 billion in grants for projects that expand the manufacturing of electric vehicle batteries. But the emerging benefits of battery-powered vessels are taking the shipping industry by storm, and the market value is set to grow exponentially.

The United Nations (UN) has listed a number of alternative energy sources as potential solutions – wind, solar, green hydrogen, geothermal, hydropower, ocean energy, and bioenergy. There’s the pros and cons, the fors and againsts for every energy type (you only need to look at Lloyd’s List or The Economist to read more Op.Eds. on that), but each of these solutions has one common denominator: it needs energy storage systems to power.

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From delivering voltage and frequency balancing to providing black start continuity to taking on the role of first response dynamic power — these factors are all crucial to electrifying ocean vessels. Not only do batteries propel ships, but they’re also integral to propelling the marine industry into a net zero future. Now, the demand for batteries is rapidly increasing as the benefits — environmental, cost, energy saving, etc. — become much more slap-in-the-face-obvious.

So what’s standing in the way?

In one short word: infrastructure.

We began to see battery-powered vessels emerge 12 years ago, but at the time, their application would peak with short-haul and small-to-medium-sized ferries. A decade ago, shipowners were hesitant to implement energy storage systems due to factors such as space, weight, costs, and infrastructure constraints.

You could argue it’s reductive, but the infrastructure is the big player and the final word in battery-powered vessels going the distance – figuratively and literally. But there are alternatives. Shift’s PWRSwäp is derived from the need to combat firstly the short-term cost of establishing the infrastructure we need and secondly the long-term uncertainty that’s often the prohibitor to technology advances.

PWRSwäp removes the roadblocks that come with purchasing a battery and investing in the infrastructure requirements. It’s the first of its kind, a pay-as-you-go energy-subscription service which allows ships to use and pay for only the energy they need, and vessels can ‘trade’ energy, swapping used battery cells for charged cells. This technology allows vessels to transition seamlessly to hybrid or full electric. Importantly, it also ensures that the size and weight of the battery are a fraction of what a traditional energy storage system would be.

Win-win-win – and so on

As these conversations and talking points may be (and the reality of the tech matches), it’s equally as important to address the concerns face-on. Not just the obvious commercial consideration, something we’re largely steered by at Shift, but things like safety standards.

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Battery fires are a prominent hazard in the shipping industry. The concern isn’t exactly helped by historic news of batteries going awry and their suppliers making the same mistakes over and over. But lithium is extremely flammable, and fires can occur onboard vessels with marine batteries igniting from damage, overcharging, or overheating.

To make it worse, battery fires can be difficult to extinguish and can reignite days or even weeks later if not handled correctly or without the proper technology in place. Regulations for the safe storage and use of lithium-ion batteries and fire testing varies between countries and projects, meaning there’s very little drive to create uniformity and reliability in how we classify ‘safe’ ESS.

Safety and reliability were woven into the fabric of Shift from the outset. Observing the same mistakes made by other manufacturers over the years only motivated our own extremely stringent safety standards to increase. And with that, we created fire-resistant marine batteries.

Prioritising safety – and striving towards the industry’s most stringent regulations time and time again – underpins decarbonisation. It emphasises the well-being of crews, passengers, communities and the public and reinforces the longevity and untapped potential of battery technology in the climate crisis.

Our road to decarbonisation needs to be easy and accessible for business if we are going to succeed. This technology is not an idea for ‘five to ten years in the future’; it’s a tangible reality that is available today.

PWRSwäp’s capabilities are unique, sure, but its trajectory is equally unparalleled. The rapid uptake of battery technology that we see in the industry and interest from the market is something we’re ready to support. At Shift, we’re building charging stations along shipping routes to make the transition to hybrid or fully electric much more straightforward. Unlike refuelling with diesel or using other fuel-driven propulsion systems, the process of deploying, recharging and adopting PWRSwäp is rapid and simple.

At the end of the day, reaching our climate change goals will not be the result of one initiative, one policy, one company or one solution. At Shift, we’re constantly elevating our technology, focusing on partnerships with industry innovators and forward-thinking organisations. Proactively moving the needle on climate change.

Source: e27

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