17 October 2017
Energy-Efficiency, More Than A Buzz Word For European Ports

By Isabelle Ryckbost, Secretary General ESPO
Autumn 2015


"No ports, no energy; no energy, no ports". This was the title of our Annual Conference. And not without reason. Ports are of paramount importance for Europe's energy: they supply, produce, use, store, import, transport, save, clean energy.

So no need to say that ports have to be alert when climate change policy goals, geopolitical developments and volatility of energy prices risk to drastically alter the world's energy landscape.

Since summer 2014, energy policy has been very high on Europe's political agenda with ambitious targets as starting point: 27% renewables by 2030, improve energy efficiency with 20% by 2020, with 30% ten years later. The aim is to secure energy provision, to enhance sustainability by using greener energy and last but not least, by doing more with less energy. Let us focus on this energy efficiency: how can European seaports improve their energy efficiency and contribute to more energy efficiency in the overall economy?

What is at stake? Around 40% of the commodities of European ports are sources of energy. Transport accounts for 30% of Europe’s final energy consumption. The ITF Transport outlook 20151 sees international freight transport volumes growing more than fourfold by 2050. Overall, higher incomes and growth of world population will increase the demand for energy in the world.

The challenge is thus huge, also for ports, but there are opportunities. Let me present some:

  • - Ports are not only gateways to the world but they are transport nodes. They link sea transport with all land modes. And there something can happen. Everything has to be put in place to optimise hinterland links, to shift towards more sustainable modes of transport, to remove barriers and bottlenecks, in short to make hinterland links smoother and more sustainable.
  • - The expected growth in freight traffic volumes is of such an order of magnitude that creating additional transport and port infrastructure in itself will not be enough. A better use of the existing capacity is needed. According to the World Economic Forum, only about 40% of load capacity is effectively being used today. Moreover, increasing trade volumes will also make the supply chain as such more complex. To address this challenge, the European transport sector should seriously look into the untapped potential of further digitalisation, use the rapid proliferation of hand-held digital devices, big data, and the "internet of everything". The ultimate aim should be to develop port communities in the Union that function in a transparent way, with all stakeholders submitting digital information to the system, allowing a far more efficient and secure logistic chain and connecting industry. This would lead to a better utilisation of the existing capacity and infrastructure in ports, to more efficient planning regimes in the whole logistic chain and to a higher overall efficiency of the European Transport System. As key players in the operation of the logistics chains, linking maritime transport with all other transport modes and with external service and information providers, European ports can play a pivotal role in this process. For European policy makers, this development should be seen as a top priority and where possible be encouraged and facilitated.
  • - Ports will have to enhance the energy performance of their own operations. To do so, they have to learn from each other. Both within ESPO's Ecoports network as at the occasion of our annual Conference, ESPO is constantly facilitating the exchange of best practices.
  • - Ports are industrial hotspots and often cluster different industries. Port areas bring together different companies and industries, adequate infrastructure and logistics and often have a supportive business network. In that respect ports are an ideal place for exploiting the potential of circular economy and find ways for eliminating waste or using by-products in an efficient way. The port authority can be the perfect match maker in bringing together the different stakeholders in the port and can help paving the way for a circular economy in the port.
  • - Finally, ports can play an important role in enhancing the energy-efficiency of both the ships and the industries they accommodate. A growing amount of European ports are rewarding "green ships" and/ or are encouraging ships to use shore side electricity. In addition, port authorities can enhance the energy-efficiency of their port companies and industries by setting conditions in the land lease contracts or by just giving incentives, encourage and support port companies to work on energy efficiency.

To conclude, there is an urgent need to work on energy efficiency. Ports have an active role to play and are also willing to do so. At our Conference, 90% of participants believed that ports should actively manage this change in the energy landscape of which working on energy efficiency is an important pillar.

We should also realise that Europe is not anymore the only one setting the bar high. Recently, the US president Barack Obama made his clean power plan public. Before summer the G7 engaged itself to achieve an economy without fossil fuels by the end of the century. Let us hope others follow. Energy like transport relies on a network and the alternative energy network can only work efficiently if there is a "network" and if many are using the network.


1. OECD/ITF (2015), ITF Transport Outlook 2015, OECD Publishing, Paris/ITF, Paris.