Making The Energy Transition

Sandy Gwee is Principal Consultant (Energy and Smart Cities) at NRI Singapore. She is based in Singapore and reports to Kazauki Ohara, President of NRI Singapore and Head of Consulting. In an exclusive interview with Petromin Fuels & Power, Sandy Gwee shares her insights on the energy transition and carbon neutrality, as it affects the shipping industry. Goh Tz’en Long reports.

It is  our understanding that Singapore aims to be an LNG hub, but is also looking at supporting the development and needs of alternative fuels such as liquefied ammonia and hydrogen. It aims to adopt a holistic approach… What are your views on this? How do you feel about a holistic approach to achieving zero carbon emissions? When looking at the fuels, which type of fuel should ship designs be based on? LNG, ammonia or hydrogen, or other types of biofuels?

Firstly, it is important to note that IMO regulations have not been aligned to the Paris Agreement. Secondly, this energy transition will consist of a myriad of energy solutions and diversification as no prevailing technologies or fuels have emerged as the only few sources to power the world economy reliably and sustainably. The race towards net-zero will also mean that many innovative technologies are being developed and competing to be the most efficient and scalable – and many policy makers and adopters have yet to make final decisions.

Climate change is a global crisis and Singapore is likewise not free from the challenges and impact that other countries face as well. As the world transitions to a carbon neutral future, Singapore must balance between challenges, such as decarbonising all sectors, and ensuring that it has a reliable and affordable energy supply without unwanted inflationary pressures impacting to livelihoods. To sustain its competitiveness on a long-term basis as one of the global maritime and bunkering hubs, Singapore has to build readiness to serve the increasingly diversified fuel preferences, including emerging low-carbon technologies such as hydrogen. By considering future fuels scenarios, Singapore will be able to maintain the long-term security and sustainability of its own energy supply that is geared towards its aspiration of establishing a greener economy as mapped out in the 2030 green plan. This is because low-carbon technologies such as hydrogen produces water as the only by-product when it is being used to generate energy. As a clean-burning form of energy resource that exists alongside with fossil fuels in Singapore, this is one way that will allow Singapore to gradually shift away from carbon-intensive sources of energy. Further, this also provides an opportunity for Singapore to play a key role in supporting energy transition on a regional and global basis.

A holistic approach to transitioning towards a clean energy shipping sector, will require a significant shift from fossil fuel-powered transport to energy-efficient designs and renewable-energy powered technologies. The contribution of renewable fuel sources to the energy mix of the shipping sector, however, is limited in the near and medium timeframes even under the most optimistic scenarios, and this is largely due to high technology cost, fuel switching cost and supply-chain constraints including infrastructural readiness on a global basis. For instance, the development of renewable energy solutions for the shipping industry in Singapore has been hampered by a few factors, such as the availability and suitability of shipboard technologies like fuel storage and supply systems, as well as energy converters.

Since the carbon emission produced by Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) is lower than fossil fuels, ships should adopt hybrid solutions that include both LNG and alternative fuels as their energy source. Overall, if we were to choose amongst different fuel-types to be used for ship-designs , it would have to be based on economic and other non-economic considerations such as the potential for technological improvement, safety and environmental aspects, the range (nautical miles travelled by ships), ease and availability of refuelling and maintenance. Given the more foreseeable scenarios in the medium term, LNG and biofuels remain more viable as transport fuels for large-scale deployment, as compared to hydrogen and ammonia due to technological cost and policy uncertainties. The scaling challenges of such advanced fuels should eventually resolve on a longer-term basis as observed in the maturing phase of solar and wind power development. In a recent IEA report on net-zero roadmap, it has proposed shipping as one of the leading sectors for hydrogen and ammonia application in a net-zero scenario.

As a short to intermediate term measure, ship designers have opted for “hybridised” engine solutions where it is possible to run both LNG and diesel, for example… What are your views on hybrid engine solutions as a means to reduce emissions?

Given that LNG refuelling network development is at its infancy stage, the deployment of cleaner engines could be hampered. Therefore, hybrid engine solutions will be the best interim solution to encourage ship owners and operators to begin decarbonisation now, particularly to serve a growing need from corporates that are combing through their supply chain to seek ways of achieving low-carbon or net-zero emission plans. As technology for ships are advancing towards utilising clean fuels such as hydrogen, ammonia and electrification of ships, there is still uncertainty in terms of technical and commercial viability, including policies around the adoption and usage of such fuels and technologies. Having the flexible fuel option removes the technical constraints, allowing the deployment of cleaner fuel choices that could further encourage LNG supply points and increase the speed of displacing diesel in ports. Having the choice of LNG means that the ship will emit less carbon when compared to a ship that is fully operated by diesel, as LNG has a more complete combustion, thereby releasing lesser by-products.

With regards to the ship designs of the future, do you think there should be more development along the lines of ‘electrification’, which could result in hybridised fuel cell vessels for ‘short sea’ trips, for example?

There should be more development along the lines of ‘electrification’ as that will allow cleaner and/or green energy to be utilised for hybridised fuel cell vessels. Other merits can be derived from electrification; according to one technology provider, the electrification of hybridised fuel cell vessels will also mean that systems can be better optimised and ensure efficient energy usage through analysis powered by AI. Therefore, the ‘green electrification’ of vessels is definitely beneficial in reducing the carbon footprint and should be strongly encouraged for vessels conducting ‘short sea’ trips.

Green electrification of ships should be made affordable as such demand will arise from environmental-conscious end-users and corporates that have made net-zero goals, thereby seeking to decarbonise their supply chains. Decarbonisation of ‘short sea’ trips will also be crucial given more frequent trips from shore to shore. The shorter range would also ease refuelling challenges faced in a ‘long haul’ trip.

Among the low carbon and alternative fuels, LNG is one of the most widely adopted, and has arguably the most stable and developed supply chains… although it is still being called out for shortcomings such as methane ‘slippage’. We note that countries such as Thailand, and Vietnam have invested heavily in LNG based solutions to their intermediate and long-range energy needs… Do you feel this is a good strategy? What kind of strategy should shipping adopt in relation to low carbon and alternative fuels, or even zero carbon fuels…?

In achieving low-carbon economic development, it is imperative that both Thailand and Vietnam have invested heavily in adopting LNG as a cleaner fuel to displace coal and oil for power generation and industrial use. While there is an increase in methane slippage reported in marine transport use, there is merit in LNG bunkering which further enhances the business case for affordable LNG to displace coal and diesel power generation, and other uses across the economies.

For shipping, given the present fuel options, LNG and biofuels seem to be the most viable solutions in the interim until hydrogen and ammonia development matures and become cost-competitive fuels. Shipping should commence decarbonisation now; adopt a pragmatic approach to engage stakeholders regionally and globally in this energy transition, where not only common goals are set, and also agree on the adoption of cleaner fuel choices and time frame for net-zero goals. For instance, the International Advisory Panel (IAP) recently formed during the Singapore maritime week, could set some guidance on what could be deployed within reasonable costs to produce the least possible carbon emissions. The industry should be open to switching to clean energy sources as economically and structurally viable.

Given that there are vessels still running ‘diesel’ even as we speak about issues such as ballast water treatment and ‘scrubber’ systems and the need to meet low sulphur emission standards, etc. What is a realistic strategy for shipping to adopt to achieve zero carbon in the shortest period of time?

The path towards net-zero for the shipping industry will require shared goals and plans aligned with key stakeholders:

Firstly, IMO could work closely with governments on aligning net-zero goals and energy transition plans, particularly to reflect the Paris Agreement. Governments will need to implement effective carbon taxes and carbon markets to account for emissions in the near term, and support companies in accelerating green technology innovation and adoption. Related to this, government can explore public private partnerships to accelerate technology development, targeting the high cost of new energies such as advanced biofuels, hydrogen, fuel cells capacity and battery technology. Secondly, for shipping companies to explore the fast expansion of electrification and hybridisation of ships which enable advanced sensors and AI systems for seamless energy efficiency optimisation, and emission reductions. Thirdly, energy producers should ensure the accessibility (affordability, availability and adequacy) of low-carbon fuels such as liquefied natural gas, biofuels, hydrogen, and ammonia. As such, the path to net-zero in the maritime industry hinges on conscious efforts required by different stakeholders in the ecosystem to strive for a common goal of carbon neutrality.

“The future of shipping will rely heavily on sustainable solutions to meet environmental and profitability goals.” Would you like to share your thoughts on this statement?

With the shipping sector looking for more sustainable options, it is expected that there would be a growth in low carbon energies such as hydrogen and renewable energy. LNG will continue to play an important role as a transitional cleaner fuel for many years to come, until alternative green energies are commercially viable to support a decarbonised world. As the maritime industry seeks to fulfil its goal of low to zero emissions, it will require innovation of efficient energy storage technology fit for long-haul ships. Furthermore, the current production cost of advanced biofuels, hydrogen and ammonia are prohibitive as a transport fuel, and engine adaptation and innovation will also take time to mature. Until such a time, carbon offsets can be applied to support decarbonisation efforts and enabling corporations to begin decarbonising their supply-chains.

There have also been steps taken internationally to drive the shift towards sustainability. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has initiated a few initiatives to ensure sustainable energy for all, such as the Global Maritime Energy Efficiency Partnership, which encourages interaction between global, regional and national partners in order to increase maritime energy efficiency. IMO has also established the Global Industry Alliance to support low carbon shipping, as well as the Global MTCC Network project, which provides technical assistance and capacity building for countries to effectively implement energy efficient measures.

Locally, as Singapore is exploring to make the energy transition towards hydrogen as its main source of fuel, it needs to take into account the various safety measures that will allow for safe transportation and storage of hydrogen. These measures include pipeline protection, leak detection features, and routine inspections of the pipeline. Thus, the transition to sustainable solutions is likely to be costly in the short term, but it will allow the shipping industry to retain its attractiveness and competitiveness as a sector in the long run given the world’s shift to carbon neutrality.

According to SPGlobal, Maersk shipping has recently proposed a carbon tax on ship fuel of at least $450 per ton fuel ($150 per ton CO2), a levy to bridge the gap between the fossil fuels consumed by vessels today and greener alternatives that are currently more expensive. What do you think of this proposal and do you think it will work?

When priced optimally, a carbon tax will effectively account for the negative externalities that comes along with carbon emissions from shipping. The tax collected will be helpful in a few aspects; firstly, to provide the necessary funding to mature green technology development and scale the deployment to improve the cost and economics as seen in the solar power deployment. Secondly, the carbon taxation levels the playing field for shipping companies that adopt cleaner energy sources and technology with those that maintain the status quo. It is also worth noting that maritime leaders such as Maersk are taking the leadership role in transforming the industry and energy transition to carbon neutrality, and other leading companies will likely follow suit particularly when the demand for carbon-neutral supply chain continues to forge forwards globally. Therefore, a proposed carbon tax is helpful in spurring other companies to make the green or lower-carbon transition, but it will need to be priced correctly to encourage energy transition and taking into consideration inflationary effects from fuel switching.