A logistics researcher in Zhoushan, East China's Zhejiang Province has called for forward-looking thinking among planners for China's crude import ports amid the nation's energy revolution, and the inclusion of renewable energy sources such as wind and tidal power to deal with a future of new-energy industries.
Port construction has been booming in response to the Chinese central government's call for the establishment of free trade ports, with local governments scrambling apply for such status.
According to a report released by the website of the China Securities Journal newspaper on January 31, more than 10 provinces and cities across China plan to "actively explore [the possibilities of] establishing free trade ports."
Cai Yiming, a researcher in environment and resources, told the Global Times in a recent interview that the planning and construction of free trade ports should keep abreast with the times and adopt innovative approaches, and such ports should fully consider the fast rise of the new-energy vehicle (NEV) industry in China.
Some experts have said that the free trade port in Ningbo-Zhoushan Port, the world's busiest port by cargo tonnage since 2010, could specialize in energy trade due to its advantages in the sector. In 2017, customs officials in Ningbo cleared crude imports of 51.5 million tons, up 9 percent year-on-year, according to media reports.
Cai said that as China steers toward a car industry based on NEVs, the oil trade will to a large extent lose its luster.
"In 30 years or probably less, you will see the level of imports shrink, so fossil fuel ports need to shift their development focus," Cai, an expert in the economics of crude oil transportation, told the Global Times.
Fixed-asset investment in ports includes massive oil storage tanks that require costly maintenance. The relative oversupply of storage facilities may pose environmental hazards in the decades to come, Cai pointed out.
"When imports slump, this will pose problems," Cai said.
China, the world's largest auto market, released guidelines in September 2017 in which it set a target of having 8 percent of automakers' sales be battery electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2018, rising to 10 percent in 2019 and 12 percent in 2020.
In response to the guideline, carmakers are trying to offer more electric vehicles. Globally, many Western carmakers have announced plans to shift away from cars powered by traditional internal combustion engines.
Last year, NEV sales in China reached 777,000 units, up 53.3 percent year-on-year, according to people.com.cn.
Cai said the development of free trade ports should be linked to the development of the new-energy industry, because such ports facilitate a free flow of talent, capital and technology, as well as providing superior logistics conditions. The function of such ports should shift from those handling crude oil trade to those that handle trade related to NEVs and their technology, Cai said, citing proposed approaches to new-energy port construction in his thesis on the multi-dimensional space resource.
"Ports based on the import of traditional fossil fuels should consider quickly embarking on a transformation path with the future in mind, given China's environmental and resource constraints," Cai said. "That effort will increase China's overall competitiveness."
Such ports can also be connected with new technologies such as smart grids, as well as harnessing tidal and wind power, according to Cai.