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Optimizing Ports’ Operations to Meet Decarbonization Ambitions

Tuesday, 24 January 2023 | 01:00

Ports are a key part of our global infrastructure, facilitating trade and commerce, providing connectivity between people and businesses, supplying our nations with goods and energy resources, and generally underpinning our economies and livelihoods. Ports are now at a critical juncture, being poised to both decarbonize themselves and be a key enabler for our energy transition.

At Jacobs we draw on a business heritage of 150+ years’ experience partnering with our ports and maritime clients to help them manage their operations, build their infrastructure, protect their coastlines and convey their people and goods. We are now helping them on their decarbonization journeys and to optimize their operations.

For this Q&A, we connected with Justin Phillips, Jacobs’ associate director for Ports and Maritime Advisory. Justin has extensive experience working with ports to improve their performance and transform their business to meet tomorrow’s needs.

Let’s talk to Justin:

Tell us a bit about your career background.

I started my career in ports in 1994, when I decided to change careers from asset rental management to port operations. The company I joined is now the biggest container port in the U.K., handling nearly half of Britain’s containerized trade. I stayed with that port for the best part of 30 years, growing in a variety of roles, from vessel discharge and load operations supervision, yard management, vessel planning, berthing, port development and finally managing the port’s rail operations.

What would you consider your career achievements so far?

I really enjoyed my roles, as they gave me a deep insight into how ports operate and where the opportunities generally are for achieving efficiencies, both for ports and their investors. In terms of achievements, I can mention a couple: over my ten years in port development, I was part of a small team which led the delivery of hundreds of million-worth capital investment, including additional quay yard and rail capital equipment. Over time, these capital investments increased the port capacity from 2.2 million to 4.5 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units). Additionally, during the time I managed the port’s rail operations, the intermodal business grew to be the largest in Europe.

Tell us more about your current role at Jacobs.

I joined Jacobs in 2021 as a member of the Ports and Maritime Advisory Services team. Our focus is providing clients with independent, specialist and strategic advice to support their business planning, investment decisions and productivity enhancements. This means helping them with capacity planning and terminal design, financial modelling and project business cases, intelligent asset and data management, as well as port transactions and due diligence. We work very much as an integrated team across Jacobs, bringing in our cross-sectoral experience, be that in financial advisory, renewable energy, environment and sustainability or wider transportation, coupled of course with our in-depth ports and maritime expertise. We also have several select partners, bringing niche experience in ports automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and technology.

So, tell us what is it like to be a ports and maritime consultant at this time?

It definitely feels like it’s the right time to be having these conversations about the future of ports and the role they can play in the energy transition. I think that the ports’ role will change from being solely a gateway for importing and exporting goods, to becoming a central enabler for our transformation to a low-carbon society. Ports can provide key infrastructure to enable our energy transition, including offshore wind farms, hydrogen hubs, or other energy production centers, such as those using ammonia.

From a consultant’s point of view, if we take the energy transition perspective, we can bring our expertise from other sectors and advise for example of the use of hydrogen by ports: how feasible it is, what the demand profile might look like over the next three to ten years, and whether hydrogen hubs should be considered.

Another example is where a port might look at “greening” its operations, be it through fuel switching, electrification, combining alternative fuels as well as other net zero agendas. Complementing this technical insight into possible routes to transition is our investment market experience, which helps address investors’ concerns and desire for maintained levels of performance and returns.

What do you see as key challenges and opportunities for ports at the moment?

For me, ports’ key challenge is the imperative to green their operations and meet their environmental targets, while maintaining a successfully operating business and improving a variety of KPIs, such as financial, societal, and health and safety. This includes managing current assets, including equipment and infrastructure facilities, to the optimum level, to extend their life as much as possible.

As a key priority, ports must plan for the decarbonization of their operations and make longer-term decisions on their wider business direction and commitments. Fuel and energy switching are a key focus over the next couple of years, as this will have a big impact on ports’ performance, cost, commercial advantage and market share. This is a potentially great opportunity, not only benefitting ports’ operations, but also positioning ports to accommodate new cargoes and revenues as we enter the next decade in our net zero transformation. Opportunities include becoming energy hubs, establishing manufacturing/staging/operations and maintenance bases for offshore wind, and serving as import and export facilities for project and breakbulk cargoes required in the construction, operation and maintenance of all types of renewables.

Are there any other opportunities you see in the ports sector?

I think we need to mention the potential of technology, including artificial intelligence, to optimize ports’ efficiency, leading to better returns, which will have a positive impact on investment needed to achieve this desired transformation we talked about.

Automation, semi-automation, digital twins and other technology will play a key role in maintaining an effective and efficient business. Embedding this technology into decision-making and day-to-day operations will have a positive impact on business output and performance, which will attract more investment, secure jobs for the future and ensure ports maintain their positions in the marketplace.

What about you, on a personal level? If you aren’t working, what would we be most likely to find you doing?

Probably in the summertime and if the sun is out, I will be out cycling, sometimes for 80-90 kilometers (~50 miles) at a time! I love nothing more than removing myself from reality and going on a bike ride around Suffolk – it’s a beautiful place. Unfortunately, I am a fair-weather cyclist, so you won’t see me out in the cold, dark or wet weather. So, in winter I go running – I find both running and cycling in the fresh air good for both my physical and mental health.

What would people be surprised to find out about you?

The impression I give people when they first meet me is that I am a very shy and reserved person, which I am not. Once I get to know people, and they get to know me, I am much more relaxed, and show my funny and creative side. I also find that, when you develop a closer working relationship, you tend to be more creative and happier as well.

What do you enjoy most about being part of #OurJacobs?

I came to Jacobs because I wanted to challenge myself by doing something in consultancy and working with clients, which would take me out of my comfort zone. In my current conversation with various clients and colleagues, I realize that I have a lot to bring from my previous port operational role, and I enjoy adding value to the team.

I’m amazed by the diversity of thought at Jacobs and the fact that we seem to be pervasive in most infrastructure, engineering and scientific areas in the world. I like drawing on Jacobs’ multi-sector experience and skills, and bring this to bear in the ports and maritime sector.
Source: Jacobs Engineering Group

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