The economic recession has at the most delayed, but not frustrated, a previously initiated development. The role of the short-sea segment in the international ocean transport industry is set to expand in volume and importance. Comparable to the evolution of the air transport industry, larger ports have developed into hubs that can receive liners with a tonnage of 100,000 or more. Distribution to smaller harbours within the range of distribution is left to other modes of transport, primarily the coastal trade network.
Another important development is the shift in global trading, especially the increasing involvement of BRIC nations in it. In China and India, in particular, economic growth has never ceased. Furthermore, these countries are focusing more on regions such as Africa and South America, where the local infrastructure is often lacking, causing a growing demand for suitable forms of transport.
These developments are exerting their influence on all cargo types, and on both the spot markets and the regular trading lines. Furthermore, there is a specific demand for suitable tonnage for unusual project cargoes, which is especially evident in the energy sector, and for the transportation of cargoes such as yachts.
Partly driven by the threat of fossil-fuel shortages and the recurrent fears of oil-price rises, almost all the energy producers in the world have prepared ambitious investment plans for the coming years. Sometimes, these relate to the expansion of existing refineries, installations or fields, but usually they target energy production at depths or in areas that were previously viewed as uneconomic. It has been known for many years that the Alaskan oil sands and the northernmost reaches of Canada contain oil, but it is only now that facilities are being built to make its extraction possible. The same applies to gas fields in other inhospitable areas, such as the polar oceans.
It is also clear that the imminent energy transition requires new solutions. A recent study calculated that €1200 billion will have to be invested in clean energy technology before 2020 in order to satisfy the climate targets set by global governments. The vast majority of this immense sum will be invested in the construction of wind farms and large-scale solar energy installations in remote areas with guaranteed wind and sun respectively. Worldwide, 6,000 wind farms are planned. In Europe alone, windmill power generation capacity will have to grow by a factor of five in the coming ten years if the industry is to satisfy the aims set by the EU, whereby 20 per cent of energy needs must come from sustainable means of production by 2020.
All these factors will contribute to the explosive increase in demand in the coming years for shipping capacity that is reliable in severe conditions and can reach destinations with limited draught and inadequate infrastructure - while also satisfying increasingly rigorous sustainability requirements. The CFL fleet is ready for the job.
> Cleantech, a growing transport market
A business that once seemed marginal is now looking like the mainstream future. By 2020, the market demand for technologies to create clean and renewable energy, as well as to exploit existing energy sources more efficiently and effectively, will be worth at least €1.2 trillion globally. In 2008, the sector already accounted for €340 billion. The cleantech sector promises to be the largest economic powerhouse after the electronics and automotive industries, according to research by Roland Berger Strategy Consultants, commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund in 2009 *. Those findings were recently confirmed by the authoritative International Energy Agency (IEA).
Both studies are based on investment plans currently on the table all over the world, which will be realised once funding is complete. In order to compensate for the imminent shortage of fossil fuels and raw materials, and to meet climate objectives as outlined in the recent summit in Copenhagen, both countries and private companies have put the inevitable energy transition high on their agendas. Thus, the EU expressed the ambition to derive one-fifth of its energy from sustainable, renewable sources by 2020, Japan aims to reach its 50% target fast, and even the biggest consumers of energy, the USA and China, are now aware that increasing their share of renewable energy over time is inevitable.
> New plans
The result of this international awareness that parties around the world are currently accelerating their develop of plans to introduce the clean technologies that best fit the expected development of their energy needs and their geographical and geological conditions. In the Netherlands, for example, the coming years will see the construction of more biomass plants, an increase in the number of cogeneration (or CHP, combined heat and power) initiatives and the construction of more offshore wind farms. To achieve the EU's objectives in these areas, the Netherlands will have to make up lost ground. Just to increase the share of wind energy sufficiently, 1,300 new wind turbines must be placed off the Dutch coast over the next decade, each one measuring 90 metres or more. All in all, that requires an investment of €16 - 20 billion.
Elsewhere in the world, development will be just as swift. Sustainability leader Germany has plans ready for wind and solar parks costing €150 billion over the next three years, while the UK has just concluded a contract for the construction of offshore wind farms worth €900 billion. Meanwhile, the USA and Canada both announced recently that total investment in the construction of cleantech solutions would increase in their countries - by an expected €250 and €50 billion per year respectively. And these are just some of the plans.
As the world works in earnest on making this energy transition, the development for adequate transportation capacity is also increasing. At a recent seminar at the University of Leuven, ** this area was identified as the maritime segment with the greatest growth potential. In her introduction, Professor Cathy Macharis broadly outlined the cleantech haulage market. In the first place, there are the transportation needs of the global assembly market: the design and development of such wind turbines and solar panels largely takes place in Germany, Denmark and the USA, while almost two-thirds of production is done in China and (significantly less) in India. The finished products need to be delivered to destinations around the world, most of them in remote and ecologically sensitive areas (such as desert areas with guaranteed sunlight, or in certain wind polar regions). Moreover, these often lack the necessary infrastructure and parties must have the capacity to transport project loads of often different sizes.
> Niche player CFL
This niche market is interesting for Dutch sea carriers – not least because the Netherlands is still the home of some vital specialisations in the construction of certain offshore set-ups. Companies such as Sif and Smulders are international leaders in the field of foundation production for offshore facilities, and players like Ballast Nedam, Van Oord and Vroon have a worldwide reputation in building power plants in extreme conditions. The home market also looks very promising.
But when it comes to carriers that specifically focus on serving the cleantech segment, they are few and far between. One of the handful of businesses ready for the fast-growing increase in transport demand is relatively young shipping company, CFL. Founded four years ago by a group of investors around managing partner Kees Koolhof, CFL opted for a particular concept: its soon-to-be-completed fleet of 15 multi-purpose vessels is fully constructed in the Netherlands, meets the highest requirements in terms of energy efficiency and CO2 emissions, is ice-worthy, has a shallow draught, can ship project cargo, containers or dry bulk and is (in part) equipped with its own handling cranes.
“We continue to support multiple cargo segments, but we want to distinguish ourselves in this one,” Koolhof explains in CFL’s Amsterdam office. “With the design and development of our new ship type, the Sole 10,000 series, built at Peters Shipyards, we have a very specific philosophy in mind. The ship has a continuous space of over 70 metres long, unique for a vessel of its size. We can therefore carry large project cargo on deck, without it first having to be dismantled. We have expanded the area for deck cargo and attached two cranes with a total lifting capacity of 160 tonnes. And just like our Jumbos (6500-tonners, ed.), the Sole barely goes eight metres deep, is powered by super-efficient engines and uses cleaner fuels. That gives us an edge now.”
Not surprisingly, then, CFL's first major contract for cleantech transportation is in. After an extensive selection process, Van Oord dredging and offshore company gave CFL the contract to transport its monopiles and other turbine parts from Denmark and Germany to Zeebrugge, where the offshore wind farm Belwind will be realised. Says Koolhof: “They chose us because all our ships can handle such a specific load, and because we want to develop in this segment. We are looking forward to a long-term partnership.”
* Clean Economy, Living Planet: Building Strong Clean Energy Technology Industries by Roland Berger Strategy Consultants and WWF (November 2009)
** Cleantech Transportation: Vision on Logistics 2020 by Professor Cathy Macharis (March 2010)