Diane Gilpin leads Smart Green Shipping (SGS), a purpose-driven, for-profit systems design house working to drive immediate, scalable, positive change in the global shipping fleet.
SGS works collaboratively across the shipping eco-system and brings in adjacent technologies and industries. In 2018/19 SGS led an InnovateUK supported collaborative feasibility analysis quantifying the benefits of retrofitting its FastRigTM wingsails onto a ship importing biomass into the UK for Drax power. Fuel and GHG emissions savings were verified externally, in computational fluid dynamic modelling (virtual world) at the University of Southampton, as saving at least 20% per annum. Simultaneously, with European Space Agency support, SGS has developed an App called TradeWind to quantify the value of the wind on any ship on any route. This tool is a key enabler to drive rapid market adoption of wind-assist technology.
Diane sits on UK Department for Transport Clean Maritime Council; is a European Green Shipping Expert for EU Waterborne Transport Platform; was voted by the public as a BBC ‘Woman of Power’ 2020; is a recipient of InnovateUK’s ‘Women in Innovation’ Award; and winner of the 2021 International Windship Association’s ‘Outstanding Contribution’ Award.
What attracted you to a career in Maritime/Engineering?
I’m an entrepreneur and I’ve always worked in innovation. I could see that shipping needed to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a commercially viable way. Having worked in F1, yacht racing and renewables I know there were combinations of technologies, knowledge and expertise that could be transferred from all of those sectors to support shipping’s transformation to be able to deliver clean, green and future-proof logistics.
What are you most proud of in having a career in Maritime/Engineering?
Collaboration and action. Working with every aspect of shipping from cargo owners to naval architects and everyone in between – shipowners, ports, marine engineers, fuel suppliers, financiers, insurers, Class, crew. Including the views of all these stakeholders enabled us to find commercially irresistible, pragmatic solutions. FastRig SGS’s intelligent, automated, retractable, renewable wingsails that save a fifth of fuel and emissions are a result of that collaboration.
What guided you towards this path?
My experience in pioneering new innovations and identifying the opportunity in shipping. Understanding the improved economics that are enabled by using free-at-the-point-of-use power. Using abundantly available renewable power creates a very different commercial proposition. Shipowners benefit by securing some autonomy from volatile fuel costs – be they fossil or new zero-emission fuels – which tether shipowners to someone else’s need to make money. Once you’ve switched to renewables there’s no going back, products and solutions are just better. Offshore wind turbines produce cheaper, cleaner power than fossils and improves energy security; Tesla design cars offer improved experience for drivers. The happy climate by-product of combining great design, engineering and renewables is that emissions are reduced rapidly, the key to that transformation is that products are simply better.
What is the biggest misconception about your job?
That wind is a solution from the past. Wind is energy; how we harness it in the 21st century is a world away from the Cutty Sark. Using America’s Cup wingsails as a template, engineering them to be robust for merchant shipping, deploying space technology to automate them so the crew don’t need sophisticated training…all that is pretty straightforward. Over the last decade many people have thought of wind as a backwards step – but that is changing now, pretty quickly, I’m happy to say.
What would you say to young females thinking about a career in Maritime/Engineering?
The world needs all the help it can get. Women make up more than half the population and have so much talent that we need to make sure we make best use of it. The sector is increasingly recognising the hugely valuable skills that women bring to shipping. The recent inaugural Women in Maritime Day initiated by the International Maritime Organisation is testimony to that. Maritime and engineering is a really thrilling space to work, come and join us.