This renowned shipbuilder is betting big on the green wave sweeping over the maritime industry, one that contributes significantly to carbon emissions. The Singapore-listed company’s bold new direction is giving it a critical edge in the transition to a net zero world.
Managing Director James Tham (pictured), a journalist-turned-businessman, reveals that the company is playing the long game in its wholehearted embrace of sustainability. While he says that business will have to endure some short-term pain by going green, this pivot will help Penguin distinguish itself from the competition for the foreseeable future.
These regulations required the firm to produce a sustainability report in 2017, Mr Tham says, leading to “baby steps” in green technology. A year later, Penguin retrofitted one of its ferries with solar panels. It later built Singapore’s first hybrid-electric fast launch. Soon, customers like Shell and the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) asked to tap its expertise in building sustainable high-speed vessels.
Since then, Penguin has delivered to MPA Singapore’s first hybrid-electric patrol boat and is currently building for Shell Singapore’s first pure electric ferries and rapid shore chargers that it would own and operate.
Penguin has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Sembcorp Marine and Shell to trial the use of hydrogen fuel cells for ships in Singapore — a potentially zero-emissions technology to help the industry achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
This emissions target signals the country’s commitment to the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement and the International Maritime Organization’s Initial Strategy to ensure greener shipping globally. Mr Tham believes the push for a cleaner industry will drive demand for Penguin’s solutions.
Another key to unlocking the company’s potential is the availability of financing for green maritime projects. It recently secured a green loan from a local bank — co-guaranteed by Enterprise Singapore — to help finance its green project.
A third driver will be the public’s willingness to accept sustainable solutions that might cost more, he says. “The public needs to be part of the national conversation where they expect electric ferries as much as they expect electric buses, essentially saying, ‘we don’t want diesel ferries when we travel’.”
“Going green in the short term is not profitable, so it has to be part of a bigger strategy. The benefit we reap by being part of the solution now is we are seen as a progressive, can-do company,” explains Mr Tham.
Looking ahead, Penguin has started exploring newer green technologies that can be applied to marine and offshore. These include the use of methanol as a maritime fuel, and new forms of ship design to make vessels more energy efficient. “People are embracing a new normal. You do not want to be left in the cold when the whole industry has moved on,” he says.
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