This Is Not Business as Usual

5 December 2019 - // Interviews
Andreea Strachinescu
Head of Unit for Maritime Innovation, Marine Knowledge and Investment in the Directorate General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries at the European Commission.

How are maritime affairs and energy intertwined?

The seas and oceans are essential for our future on planet Earth. They regulate its carbon and heat cycles and deliver resources such as food that contribute to our diets and provide livelihoods for coastal communities. The OECD estimates that the ocean economy will double by 2030.

This is partly because the seas and oceans will play a vital role in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and limiting global catastrophes. Looking at the level of ambition expressed in the European Commission’s 2050 Clean Planet Strategy (COM (2018) 773 – A Clean Planet for all – A European strategic long-term vision for a prosperous, modern, competitive and climate neutral economy), it is quite clear that reaching the climate neutrality goal will require a quarter of all Europe’s electricity to be generated offshore with twenty times more offshore wind turbines in our seas than there are today. Energy from tides and waves will complement this with an energy supply that is more regular and more predictable then that provided from wind or sun.

This will totally transform Europe’s seas with significant proportion of national waters – up to 20 percent for some countries – dedicated to renewable energy production. This is not business as usual. A new vision is needed to accommodate this massive expansion of renewable energy while taking into account other ocean users and maintaining or recovering biodiverse ecosystems. This will be a major challenge for the maritime spatial plans that EU countries are preparing for 2021.

What main applications of renewable energy is the EU promoting?

Europe has been a world leader in offshore renewable energy in terms of patents granted. EU guidelines stipulate that energy tenders should be technologically neutral although exceptions can be made for small-scale and demonstration projects. Offshore wind farms, at least those with turbines fixed to the seafloor, have moved well beyond the small-scale but wave and tidal projects as well as floating wind farms have benefitted from considerable public support.

This includes the EU. Support is provided for all levels of technological readiness. The EU research programme Horizon 2020 has financed ocean energy projects since 2014, not only through grants but also loans, guarantees and equity-type funding for higher levels of technological readiness through the Innovfin programme. Revenues obtained from the sale of emission allowances from the new entrants’ reserve (NER) of the EU Emissions Trading System have been spent on ocean energy.

Horizon Europe, the successor to Horizon 2020, will continue this support in line with the objectives of the UN decade of ocean science for sustainable development. Investment will be handled by the Invest EU Programme which will bring together under one roof the multitude of EU financial instruments currently available to support investment in the EU, making EU funding for investment projects in Europe simpler, more efficient and more flexible. The European Commission’s proposal envisages openings for smaller companies providing services and products for offshore renewal energy as well as larger infrastructure projects, including transmission lines to bring the energy ashore and port upgrades.

What are the challenges and solutions for maritime transport in the EU and worldwide?

According to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), shipping is responsible for 2.5 percent of global GHG emissions. In 2018, the organization resolved to reduce emissions by 50 percent by 2050 compared to 2008 while “pursuing efforts to achieve full decarbonization as soon as possible in this century”. This will be extremely challenging given that the scenarios presented in Clean Planet suggest a 115 percent growth in tons-kilometers between 2015 and 2050.

Electrification of short sea shipping and inland waterways is feasible and battery-driven ferries carrying 30 vehicles and 200 passengers are already in operation. There could be a hundred or so such vessels by 2030. But batteries have a low energy density, and for now their high weight makes the technology ill-suited for long-distance shipping. Hydrogen-based technologies (such as fuel cells) may become competitive in vessels in the medium- to long-term and the fuel would need to be produced by water electrolysis using carbon-free electricity or from natural gas steam using carbon capture and storage. But biofuel consumption will also inevitably grow.

Shipping is responsible for 2.5 percent of global GHG emissions.

Indeed, reaching zero carbon by 2050 will mean less land for food as land is set aside for biofuel. This can be compensated by aquaculture which can produce protein with a lower carbon footprint than that grown or raised in soil. The extra space needed for offshore food and energy production will create new landscapes for maritime transport and careful planning will be needed to ensure minimum disturbance.

Andreea Strachinescu
Head of Unit for Maritime Innovation, Marine Knowledge and Investment in the Directorate General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries at the European Commission.

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