The coastline of Norway is composed of hundreds of fjords — long, narrow sea inlets with steep cliffs created by glaciers. The fjords attract hundreds of thousands of tourists each year, most of them on cruise ships that burn heavy bunker oil, some of the dirtiest fuel there is. That’s a problem. Cruise ships today are self-contained floating cities. They generate their own electricity, have kitchens that feed up to 5000 people three times a day, and have their own desalinization equipment and wastewater treatment systems on board — all of it powered by diesel fuel.
According to Transport and Environment, in 2017, Carnival, the world’s largest luxury cruise operator, emitted nearly 10 times more sulfur oxide along the coasts of Europe than all 260 million million cars on the Continent. Royal Caribbean, the world’s second largest cruise line, was second with four times the sulfur emissions of the European car fleet. SOx emissions form sulphate (SO4) aerosols that increase human health risks and contribute to acidification in terrestrial and aquatic environments.
Faig Abbasov, shipping policy manager at T&E, said: “Luxury cruise ships are floating cities powered by some of the dirtiest fuel possible. Cities are rightly banning dirty diesel cars but they’re giving a free pass to cruise companies that spew out toxic fumes that do immeasurable harm both to those on board and on nearby shores. This is unacceptable. There are enough mature technologies to clean up cruise ships. Shore-side electricity can help cut in-port emissions, batteries are a solution for shorter distances and hydrogen technology can power even the biggest cruise ships. The cruise sector are apparently not willing to make the shift voluntarily, so we need governments to step in and mandate zero emission standards.”
The government of Norway agrees that the emissions from these hulking cruise ships are not good for the health of the fjords and the people who live near them. Starting in 2026, only ships powered by alternative fuels will be allowed to visit Norway’s fjords. Lawmakers want to protect the unique natural environment and stop marine diesel oil and mass tourism from damaging the climate. Some ships are now powered by LNG, but that will no longer qualify as an acceptable fuel for cruise ships visiting the fjords of Norway.
This opens up major opportunities for sustainable cruising and new solutions, claims Business Norway. In 2023, nearly 5 million cruise ship passengers visited Norway, which has made a major environmental impact on the country. According to the Western Norway Research Institute, cruise ships in Norway consume about 170 million liters of fuel a year, equivalent to about 3 per cent of the country’s overall greenhouse gas emissions. Most of the fuel is burned at sea, but around 20 per cent — or nearly 34 million liters — is burned while the ships are in port or visiting fjords.
Decarbonizing The Fjords Of Norway
There are few places where this is more apparent than in the Geirangerfjord. The fjord receives around 800,000 visitors a year, 40% of them on cruise ships. Growth is expected to continue unabated, despite the fact that the Norwegian Maritime Authority has warned that air quality will be downright hazardous at times in the narrow fjord.
To tackle these environmental challenges, the Norwegian parliament has introduced new requirements stipulating that all cruise ships and ferries in World Heritage fjords must be emission free from 2026. The Government is also seeking to halve emissions from domestic shipping and fisheries by 2030. Meeting these requirements will require tremendous innovation in green maritime technology.
Sea Zero Concept From Norway
Norwegian shipowners are now launching new zero emission cruise ships packed with cutting edge technology. Ulstein has developed a comprehensive power solution allowing large cruise ships to run emission free for a full day. The solution includes powerful batteries, energy recovery, specialized heating and ventilation, solar panels, hot water storage and a modern automation system with cloud service capabilities. All the technology is currently commercially viable and available, and some of the components can also be retrofitted into existing vessels.
Hurtigruten Norway has been taking passengers along the coast of Norway for 130 years and is undertaking an extensive environmental upgrade of its ships. By 2024, all seven ships in its coastal fleet will have been retrofitted with major green updates, cutting CO2 emissions by 25 per cent and NOx by 80 per cent. “We have pinpointed the most promising technologies for our groundbreaking future cruise ships,” says Hedda Felin, CEO of Hurtigruten Group
The company is partnering with Norwegian research institute SINTEF Ocean to design a zero emissions cruise ship of the future that include features such as a 60 MWh battery pack, retractable wind and solar sails, AI-assisted maneuvering, and smart cabins with real time energy monitoring. Felin says of the company’s Sea Zero concept,
“We have invested EUR 100 million into green upgrades for our existing coastal route fleet of seven ships, including transforming three ships to use hybrid power. While hybrid power allows ships to switch to electric batteries and be emission free for a few hours, Sea Zero will go further and allow our ships to be fully emission free, not just for a few hours, but always. It will require a lot of hard work, a lot of investment and a lot of collaboration with very clever partners. But I know we’ll get there.”
“We have pinpointed the most promising technologies for our groundbreaking future cruise ships, and are committed to delivering a ship that surpasses all others in terms of energy efficiency and sustainability within just a few years, together with our partners.”
Havila Voyages Goes A La Carte
Havila Voyages is another company looking for ways to make cruising more sustainable and targeting a zero emissions fleet powered by hydrogen by 2030. It is also doing some unique things onboard. CEO Bent Martini says, “We have a unique food concept with no buffets — all meals are served à la carte. This enables us to reduce food waste by at least 60 metric tons a year, compared to similar ships with buffet servings. Our food is locally sourced from producers along the coastline we operate on and reflects Norwegian food culture. And no one leaves our restaurants hungry.
“Our belief is that our sustainable approach to coastal tourism and our focus on climate and the environment are a positive contribution to the transition towards a zero emission society. We look forward to continuing our journey and doing our part to make tourism and shipping more sustainable socially and environmentally,” he says.
Brim Explorer operates four hybrid-electric catamarans and electric boats that offer silent, emission free fjord tours that offer tourists views of nature in the Arctic with minimal environmental impact. The vessels generally use only their electric engine during the tours and can charge overnight in most ports, giving the passengers silent fjord experiences.
“Our goal was to prove that it makes financial sense to prioritize sustainability. Over time, it has become increasingly clear that more and more tourists are concerned about their impact on the environment and are choosing the greenest option,” says Agnes Árnadóttir, CEO of Brim Explorer.
All over the world, people are crying into their beer about home moving away from fossil fuels will wreck the global economy, throw millions out of work, and generally degrade our standard of living. Norway, where plug-in hybrids and battery electric cars now dominate new car sales, is proving all those scary thoughts are simply not true.
Yes, it costs money to reduce emissions and yes, some people may have to learn new skills, but if the result is a sustainable world, shouldn’t that have an economic value as well? Credit the Norwegian government for having the political will to make sustainable cruising a reality when so many others are wringing their hands and saying it’s too hard. That takes real courage
Hat tip to Are Hansen
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