Exclusive interview with Norsepower’s CEO: Debunking the myth of wind propulsion’s obsoleteness

In the dynamic landscape of maritime technology, wind propulsion solutions, exemplified by the Norsepower Rotor Sail (NPRS), are poised to transcend the realm of experimental endeavors, solidifying their position as fundamental elements in standard vessel design.

Illustration; Image credit: Norsepower

Offshore Energy spoke with Norsepower’s CEO, Tuomas Riski, on what the industry can do today to future-proof its investments for 2050.

Norsepower’s CEO, Tuomas Riski

Norsepower, founded in 2012, has established itself as a pioneering force in the maritime industry, focusing on the development and implementation of innovative wind propulsion solutions. The company’s primary business focus revolves around rotor sails, a cutting-edge technology designed to harness wind energy for enhanced vessel efficiency.

Speaking to our publication, Riski explains why challenging vessel design is important to navigate future regulatory challenges and debunks the notion that wind propulsion solutions are mere relics of the past.

OE: What are the key factors to have in mind to future-proof investments in the maritime industry, particularly concerning the operational demands and regulatory landscape projected for 2050?

Riski: Marine investments will only be truly future-proofed if they can be fit for purpose in an era of stringent environmental regulation without compromising on operational performance. After all, decarbonization solutions must make commercial sense. Versatility is also an important consideration. As the sector is currently uncertain about definitive alternative fuel choices and the medium term looks set to include a basket of transition and longer-term fuel options, then ensuring that assets have the flexibility to adapt is key to ensuring long-term value from investments.

OE: How does wind-assisted technology, like rotor sails, fit into this equation, especially keeping in mind the emergence of zero-emission fuels and their adoption? Can these make wind propulsion obsolete in the long term?

Riski: Wind is an inexhaustible, free, and carbon-neutral energy source- a ‘no-brainer’ to unlock the potential of zero-emission fuels. In the near term, our Norsepower Rotor SailsTM (NPRS) are available today and will be critical in helping owners and operators meet compliance initiatives in the short term while alternative fuels emerge at scale.

With over a decade of experience, they are proven to reduce emissions from between 5% and 25% on average, and even more depending on weather conditions.

For example, we have one customer who has achieved 75% savings with optimal wind conditions. These reduction calculations are based on over 310,000 operating hours, providing a level of assurance and expertise that not many other wind propulsion or technology providers can offer. It can assure the sector of a solution that is robust enough to meet operational requirements and provide a pathway towards compliance with regulations.

I can’t see a future where wind propulsion will be obsolete. It’s quite the opposite; I predict that wind propulsion solutions like the NPRS will become part of standard vessel design. Normalizing wind solutions simply makes commercial and operational sense especially when you consider the energy density challenges of zero-carbon fuels moving–  and their high price points compared to– the HFO that most vessels are still using today.

This means that for the foreseeable future, vessels will need to drastically improve their fuel efficiency whilst complying with environmental regulations. Let’s also remember that it’s not just maritime regulations but with the introduction of Scope 3, customers will become increasingly discerning about the marine solutions that they use for transporting cargo or people.  

OE: Implementation of the new regulations, such as EEDI, EEXI, and CII, is facing challenges, especially since they might not translate into the emission reduction they are intended to provide. For example, the EEDI carbon conversion factor seems to have become a stumbling block in incentivizing the adoption of more solutions. What are your thoughts on this?

Riski: The commercial landscape supports our optimism with a regulatory framework and standard that supports the uptake of energy-efficient technologies such as wind propulsion. For example, according to Clarkson’s data, 31% of the global commercial fleet is now over 15 years old, and 30% of tonnage currently ranks D or E in CII ratings, which is promising in terms of retrofit potential as well as the outlook for newbuilds.

With CII, the financials are also becoming clearer – more expensive alternative fuels, which are a means of compliance, mean a shorter payback in terms of calculations on fuel savings. This is much more palatable with financiers who are looking to support the sector with the adoption of more energy-efficient solutions.

OE: The concept of challenging the traditional norms of vessel design is intriguing. How do you envision this transformation taking place, and what key changes are needed in ship design methodologies over the next few decades?

Riski: The ships designed and built today are going to be operating in 2050 under heightened environmental regulatory and commercial demands. It’s for the entire maritime value chain to challenge the status quo of vessel design now by working together with yards to encourage the adoption of energy efficiency technologies as standards in vessels’ design and building.

Ultimately, although there is a disconnect between the pace of regulation and developments within vessel manufacturing, the maritime industry can act on incorporating efficiency technologies as standard at the shipyard level. The entire value chain will undoubtedly benefit from shipyards positioning themselves as the front-runners in producing environmentally advanced vessels.

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OE: How does designing a ship incorporating different solutions in a holistic manner differ from installing all sorts of solutions at shipyards and hoping for the best? Can there be too many energy efficiency solutions on board, and can they become counterproductive/redundant to each other?

Riski: We can only look to achieve zero carbon shipping by working together. And that includes the tangible impact of combining energy efficiency solutions! For example, we collaborated with NAPA and Sumitomo Heavy Industries (SHI) to quantify the fuel and emissions savings potential of installing our NPRS on a tanker built by SHI and using voyage optimization solutions. Using digital technology and sophisticated sea-state modeling, our teams demonstrated emissions reductions of 28% sailing across the Atlantic, giving ship owners and operators greater confidence in the savings potential available to them.

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The amount of physical and digital decarbonization options on the market is vast and can be overwhelming. There’s no definitive answer for how many solutions should be used onboard, but it’s important for vessel owners and operators to understand the ones that can have the most impact and be truly complementary. That’s why it’s important to work with experienced solutions partners who have already had experience collaborating with other providers and have the insights to demonstrate what works, why, and by how much.

Speaking on the benefits of close collaboration between shipyards and equipment suppliers, Riski said that this type of approach can help maximize manufacturing knowledge and operational expertise. In this way, equipment manufacturers can make sure that newly integrated components deliver the efficiency and emissions savings that products such as NPRS are proven to deliver.

“Already, we have a deep cooperation with the likes of Dalian Shipbuilding Offshore Co., Ltd (DSOC), who we are working with for the installation of our NPRS on four vessels for the Northern Lights Joint Venture,” he explained.

“While designing, manufacturing, and installing different solutions in-house might seem appealing to shipyards, these operations often have shortcomings and come at an increased cost,” he noted, adding that “commoditizing energy-efficient solutions by attempting to replicate patented technology could unintentionally sabotage the maritime sector’s performance, relationships, and confidence in the technologies.”

Medium Range (MR) tanker Alcyone. Image credit: Norsepower/Socatra

OE: How can shipyards position themselves as front runners in producing environmentally advanced vessels in a time of uncertainty about future fuels and their availability?

Riski: Shipyards will be indispensable to making shipping’s energy transition a reality. The designs that they unveil today, integrating proven solutions that can achieve emissions savings independently of fuel choice, will be able to chart a path to shipping’s decarbonization. Meanwhile, we should expect shipyards to commit themselves to decarbonising their operations, something which our Finnish compatriot Meyer Turku is looking to achieve with its shipbuilding carbon neutral pledge by 2030.

It is clear that we need shipyards to innovate, as carrying on building the same fleets that will quickly become obsolete or require crippling amounts of investment to retrofit to meet new requirements would be one of the industry’s most expensive and limited bets. By introducing technology at the yard stage, owners and operators can enjoy the benefits for longer.

OE: How would you comment on the uptake of wind propulsion solutions in the maritime industry, do you believe there is a growing interest?

Riski: Our mission at Norsepower is simple: To bring sails back to shipping. And with other wind propulsion suppliers, we’re achieving this aim. In fact, there was a sharp uptick in the adoption of wind propulsion solutions in 2023, according to the International Wind Ship Association.

From Norsepower’s perspective, the use of our NPRS has become an obvious choice for well-known maritime companies and cargo owners such as TotalEnergies, MOL, Vale, and IINO Lines due to the proven environmental benefits combined with reduced fuel consumption. This will only increase as more expensive alternative fuels come on-stream, especially as our solution is fuel agnostic.

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OE: Overall, what is your perception of the awareness in the maritime industry of the energy efficiency solutions available on the market? We know that big companies are adopting new solutions, but what about smaller, more conventional companies?

Riski: We’re experiencing an increasing demand for our NPRS with a number of installations already lined up for 2024. This demand stems from ship owners and operators who have increasingly been looking for scalable, proven, and commercial solutions to enable them to comply with regulations such as the European Union’s Emissions Trading System and the International Maritime Organization’s first Carbon Industry Index ratings introduced this year, and FuelEU Maritime in 2025.

We note a strong interest from small to medium-sized shipowners and operators in picking up our product. Yet, faced with balancing their bottom line, the traditional requirement for upfront investment is a barrier. As a result, we are working with IINO Kaiun Kaisha, Ltd., and Mizuho Leasing Company, Limited on a mechanical sail leasing initiative for the NPRS. This aims to increase shipping companies’ access to Norsepower’s products to help reduce fuel consumption, greenhouse gas (GHG) and other related emissions.

This was driven by the recognition that GHG and other emissions reductions with low carbon or green fuels alone before 2030 will be minimal, which is why investing in energy efficiency solutions earlier will maximize savings and help future-proof operations in the long run.

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OE: Have solutions like rotor sails reached their peak when it comes to emission reduction maturity, or is there room for greater impact?

Riski: We would say that the future looks bright for the NPRS with tremendous room for impact. We’re entering an era now when wind propulsion will become standard with typical fuel and emissions savings of up to 25%, if not significantly more, depending on the route and conditions. As one of the first companies to champion the power of the wind to decarbonize shipping, we’re delighted that wind propulsion is finally coming of age across a range of segments with exciting customers.

And we’re always looking to innovate our rotor sails to maximize emissions reduction with superior fuel consumption. Moving forward, our NPRS can, depending on customer preference, feature the brand new patented Norsepower Sentient Control™ (NPSC™), a real-time force measurement, control, and savings reporting system.

This world-first tool enables each rotor to be controlled individually. This optimizes efficiency by managing the complex aerodynamic interactions between the sails and the hydrodynamic behavior of the vessel. Extensive computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and wind tunnel tests were carried out during the design phase to optimize the sail arrangement and design.

OE: Finally, could you shed more light on your current order book and backlog in terms of the number of installations pending?

Riski: The uptake of the NPRS is accelerating, particularly in light of growing international regulatory and public pressure on the maritime industry to decarbonize. We are today delivering more than 40 NPRSs for 16 vessels to be fitted with our solution during 2024-2025.

While alternative fuels are a popular emissions reduction solution, their cost and demand challenges are placing pressure on the industry to optimize fuel consumption and efficiency. This means that the NPRS is a future-proof alternative that provides fuel savings, emission reductions, and compliance with all important regulations. It is a proven clean shipping solution that is available right now.