Ports are essential infrastructures of huge commercial and strategic importance, crucial for trade, economic development, and job generation within Europe. Moreover, ports are the beating heart of the maritime shipping industry, instrumental to the free movement of people, goods and services throughout Europe as departure, entry, and transfer points. In addition to providing traditional services such as cargo, logistics and hubs for the shipping industry, ports support a complex cross section of blue economy sectors - such as marine living and non-living resources, renewable energy, coastal tourism, maritime defence, security, and transportation - and facilitate the clustering of energy and industrial companies in their proximity. This may include shipbuilding, chemical, food, fish processing, construction, petroleum, electrical power, steel, and automotive industries. As such, the port activities sector is crucial to the European economy.
Port activities sector comprises the following sub-sectors and activities:
• Cargo handling, warehousing and storage.
• Construction of water projects and service activities incidental to water transportation.
Unlike many other economic sectors, turnover of the port activities sector was affected only marginally by the COVID-19 pandemic. Net investments experienced a significant drop, but have then embarked on a recovery path, mainly thanks to the ambitious decarbonisation targets set by the European Green Deal and the growing uptake of carbon-neutral technologies by the various energy-intensive industries gravitating around European ports.
Port activities accounted for 11.5% of jobs and 20.9% of GVA in the EU Blue Economy in 2020.
Seaports are critical to the EU's international and internal trade with 75% of imported and exported goods and 31% of intra-EU transactions passing through them, Many European ports are vital energy centres, by supplying energy to vessels for navigation and use while at berth, serving as import points for clean energy (e.g. LNG, hydrogen) to be used upstream, or hosting energy production in their area.
With regards to employment, the sector employed 385 627 people in 2020, up from 382 625 in 2019. Personnel costs remained relatively stable at approximately EUR 16.1 billion, corresponding to an average annual remuneration of EUR 42100.
Ports will play a pivotal role in achieving Europe’s climate neutrality goal. Ports are the source of direct and indirect carbon emissions via their logistic activities, such as diesel powered shore-side infrastructure (for moving containers, cranes etc.), non-renewable electricity consumption used to power buildings, lighting and various machinery, and other indirect emissions from the vehicles that use the ports to deliver and load cargo, and their associated warehouses . All of these activities present opportunities for decarbonising, using a mixture of electrification (with renewable energy sources), greater energy efficiency, smart technologies to aid transportation and delivery, and providing shore-side electricity for docked ships. Ports must utilise a range of actions and innovative technologies across all business areas to significantly reduce their emissions.
Furthermore, ports could be instrumental to the energy transition of many industries located in their proximity. Ports can become important producers and providers of clean energy solutions. The deployment of green technology facilities, such as onshore power supply (OPS) is becoming a requirement under the “Fit for 55” initiative and will require action from both port authorities and ship owners. Ports may provide landing points for the vast planned capacity of offshore wind. They will be vital for the development of renewable energy sources. Some ports also have the potential to house the development of large-scale electricity storage which will be needed for balancing fluctuating supply and demand, and for facilitating the transportation of green hydrogen. Maintenance activities and construction works in ports provide further opportunities to decarbonise, utilising renewable energy, off-grid storage to power tools and switching from diesel-powered machinery to electrified options. Due to the complex, multifaceted nature of ports, a coordinated strategy and a multi-pronged approach between port authorities and all stakeholders within ports, customised for their own specific challenges and strategy will be vital to maximise the uptake of carbon-neutral technologies.
The green and digital transitions are bringing about a profound transformation of Europe’s economy and society, and provide a unique opportunity for the port industry to address its environmental externalities, such as air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, waste and garbage generation, and noise pollution as well as structural challenges, such as grid connectivity.
The European Commission is seeking to address these issues through legislation such as the ‘Fit for 55 package’, whereby the EU aims to reduce emissions by 55% by 2030. Other initiatives include the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation which aims to reduce the environmental impact of maritime vessels by setting out requirements for energy provisions.