Driving power grid growth and passenger upturn

Mike Corrigan of Interferry calls for greater investment in shoreside electricity supply

Driving power grid growth and passenger upturn
Mike Corrigan joined Interferry in 2017 after 14 years with BC Ferries

By Mike Corrigan |

There are signs of a break in the Covid cloud hanging over the travel market, but I’ll come to that after revealing how Interferry plans to tackle an increasingly urgent aspect of the battle against climate change – the drive to meet demanding regulatory targets on reducing shipping’s greenhouse gas emissions. 

Maritime authorities are legislating for interim cuts of around 50 per cent by 2030 en route to zero emissions by 2050. Electrification is key to this ultimate ambition. The ferry sector already leads the shipping industry in embracing interim solutions like alternative fuels and hybrid power trains, and it is also a pioneer in moving towards the battery-based technology that will enable the longer-term objective.                        

However, onboard innovation alone is not enough to ensure success. As constantly confirmed by speakers and delegates at our 45th annual conference in Santander, Spain, in October 2021, the ferry community is united about the crucial need for the rapid expansion of shoreside electrical infrastructure. Port authorities and power companies are lagging up to 10 years behind the initiatives taken by operators and their suppliers. Some onshore power supply (OPS) facilities already exist and cater for energy consumption at berth, allowing ships to shut down their diesel generators and thereby reduce emissions. In the future, it will become the norm for ferries to not only have their shoreside needs covered but also – importantly – to be able to store a lot of power in their onboard batteries to use for propulsion. Hence, it is vital that there is a quantum leap in the supply network.             

Raising worldwide awareness of this imperative among senior decision makers has now become the major focus of Interferry’s lobbying activity. We are reaching out to local, regional and national governments, as well as to port and energy company managers, to underline the ferry sector’s value to society and win support for OPS investment. We will be delivering a stark message: portside power development is essential to the zero emissions goal, otherwise countless ferries will be unable to comply and forced into premature retirement, severely compromising passenger and freight capacity on both lifeline and leisure services.  

Ammunition for this campaign was evident at our conference, when we announced the findings of a study commissioned from specialist UK consultancy Oxford Economics on the size and economic impact of the global ferry industry. The latest available pre-Covid full-year figures showed that, in 2019, the industry operated 15,400 ferries and carried 4.27 billion passengers – rivalling the airline total – as well as 373 million vehicles. It also supported 1.1 million jobs and contributed $60 billion to the world GDP. These startling statistics surely make the case for OPS support indisputable.     

Meanwhile we are keeping close watch on the prospects for tourist services returning to pre-virus normality in the coming months. Scientific and medical opinion suggests that the new Omicron variant is far less potent than previous incarnations. Passenger ferry operators implemented trendsetting ‘safe travel’ measures to combat the first – and apparently worse – wave of the pandemic, so they can take heart if the experts are right and travel restrictions continue to be eased.   

The sector is certainly in prime position to benefit whenever pent-up travel demand is released, as revealed in a keynote conference address on post-pandemic prospects for the European ferry market. Research by the transport and logistics division of London-based L.E.K. Consulting indicated that the success of vaccination roll-outs could see passenger bookings back to 2019 levels by this year – not least because ferries were ranked as the safest travel mode for avoiding infection.   

It’s clear that many opportunities as well as challenges lie ahead. The scene is set for Interferry and its members – 260 operators and suppliers in 40 countries – to stand by an inspirational truism about perseverance: ‘It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get back up.’

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2022 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. 

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