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Tug Technology & Business

Is this the best owner incentive to buy hybrid tugs?

Wed 16 May 2018 by Martyn Wingrove

Is this the best owner incentive to buy hybrid tugs?

“Who should foot the bill for tug owners looking to upgrade their fleets with new hybrid propulsion tugs?” asks editor Martyn Wingrove

While the operating cost savings and environmental benefits alone should be enough to persuade owners to invest in hybrid propulsion systems, sometimes an extra incentive is needed to sweeten the deal. And I have just the cherry to drop on top.

To encourage owners to invest in hybrid technologies, shouldn’t users of these progressively propelled tugs – namely, terminal operators and port authorities – be willing to pay more for their services?

Tugs produce virtually no emissions when operating on batteries in harbours and terminals. This means they are environmentally neutral and do not contribute to air pollution in the ports they serve.

There are no sulphurous or nitrogen oxide emissions, no particulate matter or black smoke. Hybrid tugs are almost totally emissions-free when operating on batteries.

Surely, that sort of public good is something ports would be willing to pay a bit more for?

I spoke to Kotug Smit Towage chief executive Rene Raaijmakers in April at the British Tugowners Association conference in the UK. His company operates the largest fleet in the world of hybrid tugs, with five operating in UK and northern European ports.

Mr Raaijmakers said he has found that charterers are not willing to pay a penny more for using hybrid tugs.

So the ultra-competitive market demands hybrid tug owners offer the same rates as the fossil fuel-driven tugs belching out fumes and particles that are linked to 60,000 deaths worldwide each year in port cities and around heavily-trafficked shipping routes.

But if end users of tugs have an interest in human and environmental well-being and want to encourage further investment in hybrid tugs, they should be expected to take on some of the cost by ensuring better rates for owners.

And as shipping tackles requirements to lower emissions, the industry should also consider encouraging tug owners to invest, to order more environmentally friendly tugs and convert existing tugboats to hybrid propulsion where possible and where technically viable.

If no agreement to subsidise hybrid technology can be found, what about considering subsidised power recharging stations for vessels?

If any of these incentives are successful, there is no doubt in my mind an increase in contracts for new hybrid tugs and more orders for batteries to refit existing tugs will follow.

There is a counter-argument, of course, to my blue-sky request for broader responsibility and investment in hybrid technologies.

Battery-propelled tugs burn less fuel, offering long-term savings for owners through lowered operating expenditures.

This point is undeniably true, and when we spoke, Mr Raaijmakers confirmed that, by his calculations, his fleet of hybrid tugs will eventually pay for itself.

The problem with the argument is that it does not address the reality that the up-front cost for hybrid technologies and battery retrofits are still daunting enough to put many owners off.

Ultimately, whether we act to support owners in their uptake of hybrid technologies depends on what type of environment we want to live in.

If we want cleaner air and a healthier, safer environment for ourselves and for future generations, we need to use every means we have to ensure we can achieve it. 

More details on the current construction of hybrid tugs is in the latest issue of Tug Technology & Business, which will be available this week.

If you want to comment on my viewpoint, then please email me at: martyn.wingrove@rivieramm.com.

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