Did you always want a career in the marine industry?
I grew up next to a shipyard in Brattvåg, near Ålesund, on the northwest coast of Norway. The whole region is packed with businesses focused on ship building, ship design, ship equipment manufacturing, as well as having many shipowners – hence a future within the maritime industry was clear. I was offered a job in automation and control, which was part of the old Ulstein Group, and accepted that without any hesitation.
As CEO, what are the best and worst aspects of your job?
The best part is the opportunity to work with competent people who get their motivation from doing a good job. It’s striking to see how colleagues can support a strategy for a specific goal with strong commitment, all the while having far better ability to execute it than I myself would have managed. As for the worst aspects, any time we miss out on what could be an important opportunity is tough – but we pick ourselves up and keep going!
What’s your career highlight so far?
We’ve been at the forefront of several projects that have broken new ground for the industry, such as supplying automation systems for new LNG bunker barges and wind farm service vessels. In each instance, we’ve been working closely with clients to build the systems, which always offers a great sense of satisfaction.
What are the biggest challenges facing the marine industry today?
The industry – in many segments across the world – still suffers from an oversupply, which is naturally holding new building orders back. This situation makes most equipment suppliers suffer. Shipowners also have many difficult choices to make with the introduction of new rules and regulations. This requires them to find new technical and procedural solutions that satisfy such demands. Many of the new technical solutions related to environmental demands require choices within vessel fuel, ballast, machinery and reporting, which are quite expensive and come with uncertainties for implementation and functionalities. With today’s general low level of charter rates and aging fleets, owners have a tough decision to make as to whether they keep their ships, upgrade them, or simply sell them for scrap.
How will the maritime industry have changed five years from now?
The world is now embracing LNG as a clean energy source and batteries as an energy storage medium. Soon the application of these technologies will be applied in the maritime industry, too. We see a range of applications on the horizon for hybrid systems and new infrastructure on land for LNG and electric distribution. If shipping is to transform, there needs to be greater focus on the performance and reliability of these systems, which we’re not seeing at the moment.
Is hybrid and electric propulsion the answer to developing a sustainable marine sector?
If no emission of greenhouse gases (GHG) is the aim, and we focus purely on what each ship emits, then hybrid and electric systems are a big part of the solution. But it will be important to have an overall approach to what the total GHG footprint will be. There
is a long distance to travel from upstream, to where the energy is stored, to the utilization of it. We need to make sure that we minimize waste across that entire chain.
With hybrid technology, we need to think about how it needs to develop in regard to cost, space and weight. Currently, a battery is 200 times bigger than the equivalent diesel fuel required. Weight is also an issue, with a 2MWh battery weighing 17 tons and taking up 20m3 (706ft3). Compare this with a marine gas oil generator, which gives 10kWh/liter.
So, as I see it, the main areas to focus on are: tech development to improve ratio of cost, price and weight to energy; developing the applications for onboard propulsion systems that reduce energy consumption and only produce what is necessary; and incentives from governments to reduce the gap.
For organizations in the marine world that have not yet made the leap to sustainable propulsion systems, is now the time?
It will be necessary for governments, regulators and class societies to define what the industry must live up to in order to reach certain targets. This is happening already with demands about lower emissions and utilization of other fuel sources than fossil fuel. Shipowners, designers and equipment manufacturers must contribute by applying new technology and not be too conservative. Still, the ones defining the goals and setting the limitations need feedback about what the consequences are, as well as a view on what is best in the long run.
How will propulsion technology have changed by 2030?
I don’t think autonomous ships will sail oceans by 2030 – maybe just coastal waters with clearly defined crossings. The implementation of reporting of big data from fleets will allow shipowners to reduce costs and emissions, and so, enable the maritime industry to achieve lower GHG emissions. We will see a growing demand for a new generation of crew, trained to deal with advanced systems for new power generating and propulsion equipment. Greater integration of monitoring and control systems, as well as reporting requirements, will also demand more of the future crew.