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IWSA: More wind-powered ships than large cargo vessels running on low and zero-carbon fuels

The International Windship Association (IWSA) has issued an open letter to the Heads of State and delegates at the 28th Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (COP 28), urging them to recognize the vital role of direct wind propulsion in the decarbonization of the maritime sector.

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This appeal, aligned with recent UN targets for shipping emissions reduction, emphasizes the potential of wind energy and specifically calls for consideration and funding of an ‘SDG Delivery Fleet.’

The proposed fleet, consisting of small and medium-sized wind-assist and primary wind ships, aims to provide low-emission maritime transport solutions to regions at the forefront of climate change impact, including Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

“An ‘SDG Delivery Fleet’ would effectively unplug SIDS and LDC’s from fuel-dependent shipping and unlock fuel expenditure for use to deliver improvements to health and education provision and other SDGs,” IWSA Secretary General Gavin Allwright said.

“This SDG Delivery Fleet would create resilience, enhance trade, and serve as an adaptation tool – while at the same time delivering sustainable livelihoods, training, and aspirational opportunities to coastal communities. It would ‘put people at the heart of climate action’.”

IWSA has also called for the creation of a level-playing field for direct, non-commoditized renewable energy sources, such as wind, that harness energy without the need to convert or store that energy.

“Adopting a balanced ‘energy-centric’ approach in the areas of policy, regulation and finance would ensure that direct and highly valuable energy sources are not sidelined, undervalued and underfunded just at the time when we need to be scaling up all renewable energy sources. This is an energy source that could deliver savings of up to 1% of global GHG emissions alone but would also lower the total cost of the energy transition in the shipping industry by effectively saving enough in fuel costs over the next 25 years to meet that transition price tag to the tune of $1-1.5 trillion, while all the time providing hundreds of thousands of quality, high skilled jobs,” Allwright said. 

The association also urged the delegates to back concrete actions to scale up technologies that harness renewable energy for ships. IWSA specifically calls for significant R&D subsidies, the removal of regulatory barriers, and incentives for the construction of new ships designed to utilize wind energy upon delivery.

Installations accelerating but not enough

Wind propulsion has been singled out as a freely available, sustainable, and renewable energy source, mitigating reliance on finite alternative fuels whose production is yet to be scaled.

Currently, there are 31 large ocean-going vessels that have wind-assist technology systems installed equalling a transportation capacity of approximately 2 million deadweight tonnes of cargo. There are 8 wind-ready ships in operation, 22 ships with wind propulsion technology installations pending, and 5 newbuild ships on order that will have primary wind propulsion technology installed, data from IWSA shows.

These ships, in addition to 20+ smaller sail cargo and small cruise vessels using wind, means that there are currently more wind-powered ships than the total number of large cargo ships operating on new low- and zero-emissions fuels in the global shipping fleet of 50,000+ vessels.

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“The number of ships using wind energy today plus the number of ships lined up to have wind propulsion technology installed in coming months and years is promising – but it is not enough. There is a huge opportunity here for the maritime sector to take a pioneering position in the fight to limit carbon emissions from industrial sectors with its unique access to this energy source. The percentage of wind powered ships needs to increase, and fast and the need for wind-powered ships servicing LDCs and SIDs is urgent,” IWSA Secretary General concluded.