Tuesday 2 March 2021 1:00 pm

Step aside, Tesla. We need electric ships to hit net zero

Chair of Maritime UK

It is not surprising that the government has already set aside £400m for electric car charging points. Electric cars are familiar, and on their way to becoming mainstream. 

It makes sense as the Government continues full-steam ahead for their war on climate change. A study released only this week shows their fossil fuel-guzzling counterparts waste hundreds of times more raw material than they do. 

What should be at the forefront of ministers’ minds is electric shipping ports. The crucial goal of reaching net zero by 2050 depends on a green maritime industry

While electric cars are the talk of the town, the enormous power of so-called “shore power” should also be a central part of the plan to make Britain green. 

By introducing electric charging points at ports, ships in dock will not need to use their diesel engines. The knock on effects for air quality, climate pollution and the development of smart 21st century electricity grids. 

European nations have already turned their attention to a greener maritime industry, which enables 95 per cent of trade in the UK. 

Norway, for example, has recently given more than £134m to fund green vessels through its state-owned investment arm, Enova. 

We look forward to playing our part in this transformation, but much more will be needed to steer our ships and flotilla of boats in a carbon free direction. 

The global maritime sector is set to double in size to $3trn by 2030, and the market for emissions reduction technologies is predicted to reach $15 billion by 2050. 

This could result in economic benefits to the UK of at least $690 million per year. 

No country has yet pulled ahead in the zero-emission maritime race, but this year they likely will. Investing in decarbonising maritime would put the UK in the front of that race. 

We have the skills, manufacturing potential and heritage to become the world leader, and rejuvenate our shipbuilding industry. 

Our industry needs more, and that’s why we are calling for £1billion to fund a programme of innovation grants for green vessels and the roll-out of electric charging in ports.  

We have seen the sector is ready to change and innovate with government support. Whether that is a £33million investment a Belfast-based maritime consortium, which will lead to zero carbon ferries sailing the seas with 350 passengers by 2022. Or a Department for Transport investment in a Plymouth based project which is converting ferries from diesel, to electric.   

But compared to what we could achieve with serious government investment on clean fuels, wind power and electric propulsion solutions, this is a drop in the ocean.  

And what will be the point of setting carbon free ships to sail if they are unable to recharge at our ports? 

No port in the world has introduced electric “shore power” without state aid.  

The sector is ready to provide the infrastructure, as it has done in Southampton with the government’s support. But we need this power around our coast, with £200m to help create a viable power and charging network.  

We are being held back in the UK by high electricity taxes and a lack of government support, while maritime rivals such as Norway, Denmark and Sweden get government backing.

If the government can set aside £400m for electric car charging points, why can’t it do the same for maritime?  

As an island nation, maritime is the foundation of British industry and in our national story. When the history books are written, it should hold the same place in our fight against climate change.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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