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Wind power diversifies

This week saw the launching of a ship with a sail on it. Maybe not the most remarkable thing going,…

By Ian Bickis , in Blogs This Business of the Environment , on January 25, 2008

This week saw the launching of a ship with a sail on it. Maybe not the most remarkable thing going, it’s been done.

But this sail was attached to a large cargo ship heading across the Atlantic, which is very remarkable. The sail could cut fuel use by 20 per cent. This is one of the most exciting advancements in an industry that is both terribly polluting and largely immune to regulation.

The shipping industry is estimated to produce six per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, which is even more than the aviation industry.

But these massive haulers of goods are the backbone of the globalized economy. They whisk products across oceans and keep trade humming along. The Vancouver port alone deals with about 53 billion dollars worth of goods each year.

Because of the economic importance of these ships, the competition between ports to receive them, and a system with flags of convenience that pretty much exclude the ability to regulate the industry, reducing emissions has been challenging.

The Vancouver port has been a bit of a pioneer by introducing incentives to reduce emissions, but even these are pretty soft. Ships get docking fee reductions of up to 20 per cent for reducing their sulphur emissions. There are also regulations regarding the emissions of the trucks that cart away all the cargo.

But the Port has not reported how many companies have deemed it worthwhile to reduce their emissions, ie, how effective it is. But punishing regulations are just not possible, the business is too big.

Which is why putting a big sail on a ship and have wind drag it along is exciting. It makes sense for the industry, because it cuts down on increasingly expensive fuel, and it makes sense for the environment, because it reduces emissions.

Now we just have to wait and see if it works.