Measuring to manage or managing to measure?
You can’t manage what you don’t measure, is the mantra of operational efficiency. It’s an article of faith which the shipping industry quickly has come to accept in the years since 2008.
After the global financial crisis and throughout the shipping slump that followed, the consistent volatility of marine fuel prices meant that owners have had to contend with at times wafer thin margins. A phantom recovery in 2009-2010 and the subsequent double dip saw ever more desperate owners seek more radical counter-measures.
In the existing fleet, a sometimes fantastical array of energy-saving devices (ESDs) have been proposed above and below the waterline. For newbuildings, the medicine was more radical – a reappraisal of the principles of naval architecture that would focus less on cargo capacity and more on efficiency, with finer hull designs combined with some of the same technological add-ons and the latest hull coatings.
This evolution has resulted in a two or even three tier market, with owners racing to place ‘Eco-Design’ or ‘Eco-Ship’ orders in the hope that their superior fuel economy will secure them profitable long term charters. There remains some debate as to how much of the Ecoship trend is down to design and how much to making savings through better overall onboard efficiency. The more cynical point out that since the yards were desperate for orders, they were all too willing to come up with new designs, even ones whose potential to deliver genuine savings has yet to be proven.
This has not stopped owners of existing tonnage acting with similar speed to retrofit their vessels with ESDs that promise to cut fuel costs and so support their arguments to charterers that these ships, ordered just a few years previously at premium prices, can compete for cargo.
For the rest, the high cost of some ESDs prohibits them retrofitting on older tonnage. And since this is not strictly a regulation-driven change, there is no grandfathering clause that protects them from the effects. It’s more a case of compete or die.
There is a regulatory backdrop – the International Maritime Organization’s amendments to MARPOL, making mandatory the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP) and Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI). Both will impact ship design and operations in coming decades, as they are intended to increase efficiency and therefore reduce the industry’s contribution to climate change.
Also in the background – though moving towards the foreground – is the European Union’s Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) scheme. Developed in part due to a belief that the IMO measures do not go far or fast enough, MRV seeks to collect data on greenhouse gas emissions from shipping at EU ports as a prerequisite for a market-based measure or ship efficiency standard.
As a result, the industry is harvesting huge amounts of data from an increasing number of devices and components, in the hope that analytics and interpretation will gain a percentage of improvement here and there. For now at least, the impetus seems to be saving fuel rather than saving the planet.
But as the purveyors of such systems are keen to point out, collection is only the first stage. Data must be turned into information, which in turn must become insight into what measures to take, according to Melvin Mathews, Director of Regulatory and Environmental Solutions for Eniram.
“We need to weed out dynamic effects and conduct performance impact analysis on the data collected,” he told the recent ShipTech Middle East conference. “That gives us the insight that we can use to plan, execute and follow up on the measures we want to take. For example, if we select a certain coating we need to assess the impact of the dry-docking and the subsequent performance improvement.”
Mathews says a performance management review which results in the adoption of energy saving procedures has the potential to dramatically improve a vessel’s net asset value. But he says, measurable and sustainable improvements also depend on the full engagement of the crew, who must not just be trained, but fully aligned with what the owner or operator is trying to achieve.
Advances in metering and monitoring technologies make the data collection process much more accurate than was previously the case, driving a change from analogue data to digital data. But Mathews says shipping is still in the early phase of embracing the energy efficiency challenge.
“Some owners are not going to get this and others will completely embrace it, but this is a complex process. It is much harder to measure across a fleet or group of ships and even comparing sister ships is problematic. You need to get the best fit rather than seek an ideal solution. Above all you need to be pragmatic.”