REVOLUTION

A 34-year-old former Navy engineer leads one of the teams that services the world’s largest wind turbines off the coast of Liverpool, England. He says:

I didn’t even know there was a renewable energy industry until recently.

The Burbo Bank site was first developed as an offshore wind-power facility less than ten years ago. The original vision for the project anticipated thirty 3MW turbines would be installed.  Technology evolved sufficiently speedily between site approval and project delivery for twenty-five 3.6MW turbines to be constructed about 7km offshore on a 10km2 base. Now, the thirty-four new, MHI Vestas 195m high turbines that have just come online are generating 8MW - more than twice the capacity of the original technology. The whole site is generating enough electricity to power 230 000 homes. The rate of progress in the innovation and delivery has been astounding.

Companies from across the world collaborated on the never-been-done-before challenge. There were several difficult periods during the project – the grid connection failed for several weeks; the blades unexpectedly began to corrode – but solutions were identified and implemented. And, critically, invaluable learning was accumulated.

The cost of development has fallen by 33% since 2012.

As the maritime world gathers in Oslo for Nor-Shipping 2017 it seems the usual conversations are going on around Big Data (which I recently heard likened to teenage sex; everyone talks about it but no one is actually doing it!), digitisation, autonomy. Twitter is alive with initiatives. The OECD’s International Transport Forum is about to announce a global maritime stakeholders’ forum to include end-to-end representation of the shipping supply chain – ports, ship-owners, freight forwarders etc. The Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition will be learning from ‘deep dives’ into other comparable industrial sectors to explore how shipping can embrace carbon pricing without compromising its unique, international status or disadvantaging small islands and less developed countries.

Citing another of Liverpool’s great achievements, The Beatles in their song ‘Revolution’, “You tell me it's the institution; Well, you know; You better free you mind instead.”

What we learn from Burbo Bank is that once private companies are tasked with tangible, real-life, real-time challenges once unimaginable strides can be made - bigger, better, cheaper power generation in under a decade. I wonder what could shipping achieve if it embraced the possibilities of creating better, cleaner, cheaper shipping solutions?

We need to start to see more real projects rather than another academic study or more industry discussions. 

Could we imagine that in under a decade seafarers saying: “I didn’t even know there was a maritime renewables sector until recently.”