The popularity of Innovation Hubs is growing rapidly in recent years. It’s no surprise considering that they provide subject-matter expertise on technology trends, knowledge and strategic innovation management and are focal points for the Innovation Communities’ activity within the areas of focus. And although we saw Innovation Hubs in several industries in our region, we have never seen one in ports. Until now. Read all about the PoWER project – Ports as Driving Wheels of Entrepreneurial Relm – from the perspective of its coordinator Marco Padula.
Let’s start from the beginning.
What’s the PoWER project all about?
Marco: The PoWER project aims at developing and testing a new methodology and strategy supporting the evolution of Adriatic-Ionian ports into so-called “Innovation Hubs”. According to the project concept, the state of “Innovation Hub” is basically an attitude of a port towards change which implies the commitment to a three-steps methodology to address topic-specific needs, i.e. a) needs mapping; b) ideas and solutions scouting; c) scenarios foresight. This methodology – once validated – can possibly be applied to any topic. At the moment, the PoWER project is testing it in 6 pilot ports (Bari, Brcko, Durrës, Igoumenitsa, Ravenna and Rijeka) on the energy efficiency topic.
Adriatic-Ionian (ADRION) region is specific because of cultural borders and political rifts that are causing a lack of cooperation. Is that the reason why you chose this area?
Marco: Since the second post-war period, this area and especially the ports we chose underwent a progressive loss of their role of lively places of commercial and cultural exchange, which caused a lack of investments, cooperation, innovation and development, as well as a weaker application of EU policies. As a result, they suffered from low modernisation rates, inadequate smartness level and unsolved issues related to sustainability and urban regeneration needs despite being complex ecosystems and possible actors of a new development phase.
What we are trying to do, is to bring back Adriatic-Ionian port cities to their ancient pivotal role, but in a new way, set within the contemporary age. We imagine ports where the main innovation is the process through which innovation is designed and activated. This process brings back together all the stakeholders involved in the port’s “innovation supply chain”, which shall cooperate at the local level, but also at a transnational level so to achieve both vertical and horizontal innovation goals.
Can you describe how does the project work?
Marco: As I already mentioned, we are trying to regenerate port areas according to three factors: a) commercial and entrepreneurial activity, b) cultural heritage and c) surrounding territorial areas of the ports. In other words, we are leading ports to the ancient role which was a connection, cultural exchange and entrepreneurial focus. How are we planning to do that? Well, the main objective of the PoWER project is the dissemination of the PoWER methodology across the ADRION port cities and to guarantee the replicability of the PoWER Strategy by supporting the implementation and the sustainability of the activated innovation process. For that, we needed to make three main steps:
1. Mapping of needs (it provides geo-referenced information on PoWER ports, their smartness level and their needs).
2. Ideas and solution scouting (scouting sections are dedicated to C4S proposals submission, Ideas & Solutions storing and to matchmaking events).
3. Scenarios foresight (we offer to the wide public the PoWER methodology’s and strategy’s documents, the developed scenarios, as well as follow-ups on the implementation activities and results).
The main indicator of the environmental sustainability of a port is energy (EcoPorts, 2017) and that is the project’s topic. Nevertheless, it is possible to apply the PoWER methodology to any other topic of strategic interest for ADRION ports.
At what stage are you now?
Marco: This summer, we activated the last step of the project, the foresight activities. Our foresight methodology is based on the approach proposed by the European Parliament Research Service (EPRS), which has been adapted and applied to the maritime and port sector for the first time by the PoWER consortium. This methodology foresees 5 main phases, which are 1.) preparing the ground, 2.) Horizon scanning, 3.) Envisioning, 4.) short-mid-term scenarios development, 5.) Long-term scenarios development.
Currently, our piloting partners are implementing either phase 3 or phase 4, thanks to the involvement of STEEP experts gathered in local panels applying the Delphi method.
The whole point of the process is to provide local authorities and decision-makers with a clear view of actions to carry out in the short-mid-term at the local level, as well as with a more structured strategy to be implemented at the transnational level. By the end of the project, our aim is to have local entities sign a protocol, a memorandum of understanding where they agree on being interested on putting their effort in the actual implementation of the local and transnational strategy.
You said that the main topic of the project is energy. What are the main drivers for increasing energy efficiency, and what are the main obstacles?
Marco: Main driving forces for increasing energy efficiency in ports definitely are:
• Different countries regulations and requirements to implement energy efficiency measures, e.g. international, national or local legislation for increasing energy efficiency.
• Reduction of fuel consumption which will result in financial savings for ports.
• Reduction of harmful emissions and improvement of air quality which is a major issue for most countries.
• Introducing measures such as energy management system in ports and using renewable energy can mean fulfilment of strategic plans (national/local).
As for the barriers, unfortunately, there are more of these such as:
• High investment cost.
• Lack of funding for highly efficient technologies (economic barriers).
• Lack of professional staff or capacity to carry out these tasks in ports (inner organizational barriers).
• Also, different regulations can, instead of the driver, be the barrier and obstruct. For example, infrastructure projects (policy barriers).
• Lack of policies and incentives, depending on the case, can be the barrier towards these improvements.
• Lack of awareness in various ports towards energy-efficient technologies and measures that can in the long term completely transform the port and instead focusing solely on short term and absolutely necessary day to day measures.
Connected to the previous question, what would you say is the most important aspect of this project?
Marco: In general, I would say that it actually is the people living in the port. The untapped potential is their needs, their ideas, the infinite chances of cooperation that can be built, the possibility to share and to find private and public entities supporting you and to do the same for someone else, discovering that on the other side of the Adriatic Sea, some port is facing the same issue yours is facing and it’s looking exactly for the solution that you have in mind.
For example, a huge success for us was the meeting in Rijeka, where we managed to gather more than 100 people interested in a project. That is more than any other similar project succeeded to do. Also, our piloting process related to energy efficiency has brought us to the detection of 14 needs. To these needs, we gathered a total of 29 solutions from independent professionals, SMEs and researchers through our Call 4 Solutions, as well as 31 ideas drafted by high-school and university students during the gaming sessions we organized. Ideas and Solutions underwent both a local and a transnational assessment, out of which 17 solutions and 10 ideas were awarded as the best ones.
Thinking of people, how does this kind of ports development affect the locals? To their prosperity and that of the wider region?
Ports are Tools, endowed with the complexity required to encompass multi-layered and integrated supply chains and to become promoters of the regional innovation system.
Ports are Goals, as their demanding metabolisms show a need for requalification/regeneration; a condition which allows for rethinking the meaning of ports for people.
Ports are Case-studies offering a perfect background of problems, opportunities & structural conditions for identifying case-study areas, where to implement on-field activities on all possible levels of the smart innovation, to find & test solutions to urgent challenges.
Ports are the House of the enterprises linked to the Blue Growth.
They are an integral component of a city and their state affects the city and the community directly, both socially and economically.
The ports of the Adriatic-Ionian area must implement strategies that aim at innovating and internationalising the territory. Globalization and containerization’s rapid development led to bigger ships, more powerful infrastructures and supporting technologies as same as the stronger cities. Mentioned ports in this area haven’t changed since WW2 and lost their role of lively places of commercial and cultural exchange. That’s why they need to establish a permanently ongoing, collaborative and immaterial innovation process – a goal that this project is trying to accomplish with the PoWER Innovation Hub, and by clustering such IHs into a transnational network. We are sure that you are going to hear more of this project. Their next and final steps are the finalization of the foresight process and therefore, of the PoWER Strategy drafting, and the organization of the PoWER final event in Bari, at the beginning of December 2019, where our Innovation Supply Chain actors will be invited to officially sign their Memorandum of Understanding for the strategy implementation. People behind the project are giving the tool and people have to answer the call for implementation and make ports in this area better.