The transition from high-carbon to low-carbon energy sources is crucial for the sustainable development of a blue economy. Producing clean, renewable energy is a critical aspect of this worldwide energy transition.
Since the EU – including its outlying regions – has the world’s largest maritime territory, offshore wind energy will be a significant part of this change, along with energy from waves, tides, salinity gradient, and biomass (algae). Marine renewables are expected to become one of the main sources of energy, as highlighted in the EU Renewable Energy Directive.
The maritime sector will have to play a significant role in the energy transition. At EU level, maritime transport is a substantial CO2 emitter, representing 3-4% of the EU’s total CO2 emissions, or over 144 million tonnes of CO2 in 2019 as detailed in a European Commission report.
By 2030, the majority of ships must be zero-emission, as the EU has committed to bridge the competitiveness gap between traditional fuels and sustainable alternatives.
More broadly, as part of the European Climate Law, the EU has set itself a binding target of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. This requires current greenhouse gas emission levels to drop substantially in the next decades. Furthermore, the EU has pledged to reducing emissions by at least 55% from 1990 levels by 2030 as a first step toward achieving climate neutrality. According to a European Environmental Agency (EEA) assessment, the transportation sector must work together to reduce GHG emissions by 90% if it is to achieve climate neutrality.
The EU is working on the revision of its climate, energy and transport-related legislation under the so-called 'Fit for 55 package' in order to align current laws with the 2030 and 2050 ambitions.
The package includes initiatives in multiple sectors, including plans to increase the uptake of greener fuels in the maritime sector, boost renewable energy, promote more sustainable and less emitting transport, revise energy taxation, and support the most affected citizens and businesses.
Several strategies of relevance to maritime transport will contribute towards reaching these significant goals. These include The FuelEU Maritime initiative, which intends to boost the use of environmentally friendly alternative fuels in ships and within European ports. In maritime transportation, the plan accommodates all renewable and low-carbon fuels such as; liquid biofuels, e-liquids, decarbonised gas (including bio-LNG and e-gas), hydrogen and hydrogen-derived fuels (including methanol, and ammonia), as well as electricity.
The European Parliament is currently considering the proposal - by the European Commission in July 2021 and agreed by the European Council in June 2022 - to incorporate in the EU Emission Trading System (ETS) also carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from large ships (above 5000 gross tonnage) traveling to or from ports located within the European Economic Area (EEA). Capping maritime transport emissions as part of the overall ETS cap is expected to produce a carbon price signal that should foster the reduction of GHG emissions in a flexible and cost-effective manner.
Furthermore, the Energy Taxation Directivereform will encourage decarbonisation and promote the use of clean technologies and energies by establishing minimum tax rates on the relevant fuels used by intra-EU ferries, fishing vessels, and freight ships.
Implementing the initiatives outlined in the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategywill also help ensure the maritime transport sector's long-term viability. There are 82 initiatives in this strategy, each with concrete actions and milestones for 2030 and 2050, in ten important areas for action ("flagships"). It contains tangible steps to accelerate the transition to more sustainable means of transportation and zero-emission airports and ports.
Examples of innovative energy transformation:
The European shipping industry is gradually developing and deploying vessels thatminimise emissions. An example of this is the electric ferry “Ellen” which is equipped with the largest battery ever installed on a ship, having a capacity of 4.3 MWh, and saving 2 000 tons of CO2 per year. The ferry, supported by the EU Horizon 2020 programme and completed in 2019, connects the islands of Ærø and Fynshav in Denmark. Another example is Grimaldi’s Green 5th Generation-class (GG5G-class) vessels, powered by lithium batteries to guarantee zero emissions inside ports. It employs a hybrid roll-on/roll-off (Ro-Ro) technology for short-sea shipping. Since May 2020, twelve of such ro-ro freighters, with the capacity for 3 500 passengers, 271 cars and 210 heavy vehicles, operate in the Mediterranean.
In 2019, 77% of commodities traded to and from the EU were transported by sea.
In terms of dead weight tonnage, ships registered under the flag of an EU Member State account for 17.6% of the entire global fleet (in terms of deadweight tonnage - DWT). In addition, passenger ships in the EU can carry up to 1.3 million passengers, accounting for 40% of global passenger transport capacity. Overall, maritime transport produced about 3-4% of total EU CO2 emissions in 2019.
The share of maritime transport compared to other transport modes continues to increase, as well as the total volume transported. While maritime transport plays an essential role in the EU economy and is one of the most energy-efficient modes of transport, it is also a large and growing source of greenhouse gas emissions.
These emissions are projected to increase from 90% to as much as 130% of 2008 emissions. Therefore, more effort is required from the maritime transportation industry to lessen its environmental impact.
Adopting energy efficiency technologies and operational procedures can help to reduce emissions. However, the shipping industry will have to transition from fossil-based marine fuels to alternative fuels, renewable energy sources, and hybrid technologies that are environmentally and economically feasible in the medium and long term. In addition to ship fueling, solutions to cut emissions will have to be applied from ship design and construction, as well as in the interface with ports, to maintain the sector's competitiveness.
In collaboration with stakeholders, the Commission has put forward a plan for the energy transition in the EU fisheries and aquaculture industry, identifying and addressing obstacles and establishing frameworks for long-term cooperation in this sector.