All about technology and forces shaping the energy transition in shipping

‘Climate Positive’ Holiday Greetings!

December 22, 2023

Let’s dive right into the math and geeky details behind the emissions footprint of my AI-assisted ‘holiday greetings’ LinkedIn post!

1. Firstly, the post and its reach:

  • The size of the LinkedIn post, including the text and image is estimated at 142 KB. For ease of calculation, I’ve rounded it up to 150 KB.
  • As it is the festive season, I decided to work with the best case reach scenario:
    my best performing LinkedIn post ever had 43,631 impressions, 292 reactions, 26 comments and 7 reposts. This totals to 43,956 interactions. I’ve rounded this up to 44,000 to account for any reactions to the reposts that I might have missed.
  • For the purpose of this exercise, all reactions have been considered equal; i.e., they consume the same amount of energy and consequently produce the same amount of emissions.
  • ChatGPT roughly estimated that the energy required for loading a 150 KB social media post on a smartphone with average efficiency might be around 0.3-1.1 Wh (considering device energy, network energy, screen energy and idle energy). I’ll work with the average of these two values, 0,7 Wh per impression/interaction.
  • Loading the social media post on a computer with average efficiency would require between 1.25 and 6.3 Wh. I averaged these two values to arrive at 0.57 Wh.
  • Assuming 85% of the interactions are on a smartphone, and 15% on a computer, the weighted average energy consumption per interaction of the 150 KB post is 1.16 Wh.

2. Onto the ‘network’:

  • I have a global network, and I assume that the geographic distribution of where the reactions have come from is a simplistic extrapolation of the location of this network.
  • I asked ChatGPT to estimate the carbon intensity of 1 Wh in different countries and then calculated the weighted average carbon intensity per interaction.
  • Based on these two elements, I calculated the Weighted Average Carbon Intensity of one interaction from my LinkedIn network. This cames up to 0.18 gCO2e/Wh.
GeographyAverage Carbon Intensity per Wh
LinkedIn Network DistributionWeighted Carbon Intensity contribution
Total 100%0,18
Weighted Carbon Intensity of an interaction from my LinkedIn network
Calculated based on data provided by ChatGPT on grid intensity. Data years 2020 or 2022

Based on 1. and 2. above, the emissions from this post would be 1.16 Wh*0.18 gCO2e/Wh*44,000 = 9.13 kg CO2e

3. Thirdly, the energy consumed during the production of this post:

  • The work on this post took about 8 hours.
  • I used a MacBook Air for ~87% of the time, a recent iPhone for ~11% of the time and a Windows laptop (older than the other two devices and less efficient) for about ~2% of the time.
  • After failing to get DALL.E to remove the smokestack and smoke from the original graphic of the cargo ship, and not succeeding in doing it convincingly without installing heavy software programs that were not yet on my MacBook, I had to use Paint 3D on the Windows laptop to hide the smokestack and the smoke. I don’t see smoke in Shipping’s future 😉
  • I assume that the lower energy consumption of the iPhone balances out the higher energy consumption of the Windows laptop, and therefore ignore the difference in energy consumption of these devices.
  • 8 hours of work at 50Wh (energy consumption of a MacBookAir, moderate use) would produce 0.16 kg CO2e (using NL grid intensity from above table, even though I have an all-renewables electricity plan).

Total expected GHG footprint of the production + LinkedIn interactions of post:
9.13 + 0.16 = 9.3 kg of CO2e

This website is hosted by GreenGeeks and powered by renewable energy. But I do not yet have the functionality to estimate the impact of you reading this detailed analysis. To account for this, I decided to compensate for 10x the above-calculated amount.

4. Compensating for the emissions:

  • I purchased 100 kg of CO2 from Climeworks’ Orca project in Iceland, which captures CO2 directly from the air and stores it underground.  
  • This is only one example of the many sci-fi-like mitigation, removal and alternative fuel solutions that needs to be developed with care and deployed responsibly in order for our planet to endure and prosper in the years ahead.

I learnt a lot while writing this, and I hope it gives you some new insights.

Happy holidays!!

Cover image: DALL.E
Cover image compression: Optimizilla
Research: ChatGPT

Disclaimer: This GHG accounting exercise was just a fun way to explore working with AI tools that have been at the top of our minds in 2023. It does not follow prescribed standards for specific industries or guidance frameworks (like the GHG Protocol), but attempts to emulate the accounting logic for the activity at hand.

Making our planet and shipping resilient together

June 6, 2021

Decarbonisation is shipping’s white swan (I refer to the kind made popular by Nassim Nicholas Taleb), or rather, a bevy of little white swans if you will. Complete decarbonisation is inevitable; the only question now is when, not if. It is necessary for the industry to survive, and thrive in the world we will be living in. Vessels built in 2050 will be very different from the ones we build today. But given the longevity of vessels, those that we build today can co-exist with the ones built in 2050; only if we make them and the ecosystem they operate in sufficiently resilient.

Commercial shipping is a low margin business and only the very forward-thinking cargo owners are willing to pay a premium to ship goods sustainably. We don’t yet know what the technology, fuel or regulatory landscape will look like in a few years. Yes, we have a ton of limitations. And this forces us to innovate from the point of view of scarcity, with a focus on optimisation and incremental change. But the scale of the problem ahead of us requires fundamental change, delivered rapidly. Instead, if we think about this from the point of view of abundance, where we don’t have to make the business case for each single vessel work right now, would we come up with different solutions? And could we bring those solutions to scale, in turn making the economics work? When I thought about this — giving priority to resource efficiency and rapid deployment — here’s what I came up with.

(As I do not want this to be a which-is-our-future-fuel debate, my fuels and technologies are called Q,W,E,R,T and Y. If you have spent too much of your lockdown watching detective series like me, and are trying to figure out if there is a subliminal link between an alphabet and a particular fuel or technology, don’t. It’s completely random, my keyboard just threw the alphabets at me in that order.)

We can push the boundaries of flexibility further

We are already working on flexible and modular solutions and are developing concepts where fuel storage, and energy systems are containerised and swappable. But is there a way in which we can push this concept further, to increase our preparedness, and consequently resilience, in the face of uncertainty on multiple dimensions?

Let’s start with the vessel as a whole. We are preparing ships to operate on fuelQ, W or E in anticipation of future developments. But what would it take to make a vessel all-currently-possible-future-fuels-ready? Let’s assume that fuel Q has the most challenging ventilation requirements, W has the highest flammability risk and E is highly corrosive. What’s keeping us from taking all of the worst-case boundary conditions of Qand E, and designing vessels keeping those in mind? Isn’t a multi-future-fuel-ready vessel a far more attractive investment than a vessel betting on a single fuel?

Similarly for fuel storage, different fuels require different kinds of tanks. We are thinking of making them modular and easy to put them on and remove from a vessel. But there is then still a risk that I invest in a tank for fuel for my vessel and 3 years later, I need to retrofit her again to be able to operate on (because T is now way cheaper, or more widely available) or vice versa. In this situation, I would prefer a tank that can be used for both R and T.

Let’s assume R, T and are all liquid/cryogenic fuels. has to be stored at the lowest temperature of all of these. At first glance, it might not make sense to store Y in a tank meant for much colder T. But what exactly is the difference, and how much of it has to do with certification/regulation than the actual design, materials or parts used?

What if we picked the more difficult of the fuels, let’s say T, and tested and certified the tank for all similar fuels (i.e., R and Y as well)? I realise this might double, triple or quadruple the cost. But if this flex-fuel tank were available, would several more vessel owners be more willing to dip their toe in the decarbonisation ocean? Probably.
Would this mitigate a certain amount of risk, and enable easier access to capital? Quite possibly.
And if the manufacturer sold twice or thrice the number of tanks, would they be able to recover the costs of the extra investment? That could easily be calculated, right? Would this accelerate deployment and give shipping a collective competitive advantage? I believe it would.

These are just some examples, I’m sure there are a lot of other possibilities. Unless we get new technologies into the water, we are not going to find out whether or not they will be effective and efficient. We tend to keep waiting for someone else to figure this out in order to deploy them, firmly planting ourselves in the midst of a classic chicken-or-egg conundrum. Accelerated deployment will break this un-virtuous cycle, and we must do all we can to move things along.

We have the opportunity to leverage fuel, cost and regulatory uncertainty to innovate and prepare ourselves for the most technically challenging scenario, and for a complete lack of consensus. While this is not what comes to mind at the first instance, the advantage of this approach is that it will make us highly flexible and it can radically speed up deployment (which is our biggest bottleneck at the moment). This would, in turn, set us in good stead to deal with white, grey or black swans that the next couple of decades might throw at us.

Decarbonising shipping: From theory to technology deployment

April 25, 2021

I regularly run into innovators and inventors who are interested in deploying their zero-carbon or energy optimisation/saving technologies in the shipping industry. These conversations usually end up being pitches for the alternative fuel in question, or the ‘macro’ merits of shipping’s decarbonisation. But what I, or any potential user of the technology (who ultimately needs to foot the bill), really want to understand are the technology’s capabilities, the inherent risks and challenges to implementation, and barriers (or not) to scale.

Over the last few years, I’ve analysed several technologies for their potential to decarbonise the shipping industry and made decisions on whether or not they are worth investing — money and effort — into. This blog is a summary of insights gained over that time, which I hope will help teams working on new technologies understand some of the nuances of building for this all-pervasive but under-the-radar industry.

  • Systematically de-risk implementation
    The key to ensuring uptake of your technology and/or accelerating its progress, is to de-risk implementation and make it easy for a vessel owner or port to start using the technology. This could be done by preparing the groundwork in advance and where possible, securing permits and regulatory approvals which can take up a significant amount of time. Leverage the certification process to identify technical loopholes and operational and safety risks and mitigate them. Having individual technologies certified can make integrating them on board a vessel, and bringing them into commercial operations much easier and faster.
  • Deploy the lowest possible configuration of your technology into real operations (‘sea-test’ it) at the earliest possible
    The ‘lean’ approach works in shipping too, and no amount of lab testing is a substitute for actually putting your technology to work in the industry. Something that works perfectly on land still needs to be adapted to function seamlessly on a ship. The technology will have to perform through different conditions of temperature, humidity, withstand greater vibrations, etc. The sooner you implement, the faster you’ll learn about all these aspects and can factor them into your technology development process.
  • Your technology needs to come up trumps in a simple, full-picture, cost benefit analysis What are the increased costs of using your technology on multiple levels — CAPEX, OPEX, maintenance, extra time for performing some necessary tasks, different operational needs, infrastructure, upskilling/training crew and staff?
    What advantages does your technology offer in addition to reducing emissions? And would those advantages compel someone to pay more or expend additional effort?
  • Set yourself up for scale
    A single ship can have installed power requirements and energy needs that are significantly larger than smaller vehicles like cars, buses and trucks. ‘Scale’ in the multi-MW level can come from just one ship. Start building your product and sourcing your materials — from core components to peripheral equipment — for scale, right from the beginning.
  • Deliver long-term solutions
    Sea-going vessels stay in service for 20–25 years and inland vessels for over 40 years. Think about how your technology can cater to this asset longevity. What is maintenance or refurbishment going to look like? Can you embed your technology in a powerful business model that can convince a vessel owner to make an investment decision in your favour in the face of regulatory and fuel-type uncertainty? Think leasing, pay-per-use and buy back options. Also provide end-of-life recycling/refurbishment options; customers interested in sustainable solutions are also conscious of the entire lifecycle of the technology.
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