AWS Public Sector Blog

Islands of innovation: Creating smart and sustainable European marinas and ports

This is a guest post by Louisa Barker, senior research manager in the European Government Insights team at IDC, and Joe Dignan, the European head of government insights at IDC, with contributions from Alex Lima, sustainability lead for Amazon Web Services (AWS) public sector Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA), and Avi Leisner, senior business development manager for AWS public sector.

Islands by their nature require ways to get to them and ways to leave. Europe’s ports and marinas are vital nodes of connectivity: 74% of goods entering or leaving Europe go by sea. Ports and marinas also support the exchange of goods and people in internal markets, enabling the connection of islands and other remote areas to the mainland.

Ports and marinas are important catalysts for economic growth, tourism, and employment. Increasingly, they are also hubs for renewable energy and the blue economy.

This has been recognized by the European Union (EU), which has allocated funds to green and smart port initiatives through its Next Generation EU (NGEU), European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), and Horizon Europe funds. National funds are also involved. The Spanish State Port Authority, for example, is backing the Port 4.0 Investment Fund to promote disruptive innovation across Spanish public and private ports, including on the Balearic Islands. Up to €20 million is being awarded to innovative proposals in the first stage of the program. Similarly, the Madeira Smart Islands Hub Project has received nearly €4.5 million in investment—75% of it via the Portuguese Recovery and Resilience Plan.

Islands can serve as test beds for transforming ports and marinas. The Greek islands of Naxos and Kythnos, for example, have launched initiatives to create smart and green marinas. As part of Naxos’s Smart Island Innovation Hub, the island will use cloud technologies and upgrade the local marina through internet of things (IoT) solutions and smart infrastructure management systems. Kostas Kominos, general director of the DAFNI Network of Sustainable Greek Islands, which is leading the Smart Kythnos Project, shared his reflections on how ports and marinas can drive better outcomes through the use of digital technologies:

“Sustainable smart ports are ports that leverage data, and technology-based solutions, such as artificial intelligence (AI), cloud platforms, IoT networks, and 5G to enhance port operations, deliver resources like electricity and water, but also receive and manage waste in an efficient and clean way, all while promoting the circular economy, sustainable mobility, and maritime travel, and conserving the environment.”

— Kostas Komninos, general director, DAFNI Network of Sustainable Greek Islands (from IDC InfoBrief, Creating a Smart and Sustainable Island Strategy)

Island ports and marinas are demonstrating the art of the possible — and the role of these living labs is ripe for innovation. Globally, more than 85% of marinas and tourist ports have low levels of technology and digital services. Ports and marinas have very few automated functions and limited data sharing, making them susceptible to disruption and inefficiencies.

A common cloud-based data platform is a foundational step toward improving operations. Such platforms enable connections between stakeholders, management of the flow of vessels and passengers, and optimized social, economic, and environmental outcomes. Technology providers are creating innovative solutions in this arena, building capabilities such as automatic port calls, AI-driven planning and demand management, and scenario planning for disruptions.

Rapidly maturing tools like 5G, edge computing, AI, and digital twins can accelerate digital transformation. Singapore is creating a digital twin for ports to optimize supply chain operations and test scenarios for possible disruptions, including extreme weather events.

The ports and marinas sector has undergone significant changes in recent years. Authorities have shifted from being solely responsible for managing their assets and incoming vessels to managing more complex ecosystems, including the relationship between port operations and the environment, the relationship between ports and local sustainable economic development, and the relationship between ports and onward transport networks. Data and digital technologies have the potential to help port authorities manage these more complex ecosystems and drive better social, economic, and environmental outcomes.

The relationship between ports and the environment

For many island ports, water and air pollution caused by docking maritime traffic adversely affects marine biodiversity. Many seaports also grapple with the impact of port activity on local energy and water resources and the effects of climate change, including rising sea levels and more frequent and extreme climatic events.

Leading islands are leveraging technology to tackle these challenges head on. Some islands are using advanced IoT sensors and remote monitoring systems to track water and air quality, automatic identification system (AIS) data from ships, water levels, weather patterns, and water and power consumption.

The Port Authority of the Balearic Islands is an example of an island innovator. The Balearic Islands are home to the world’s largest living organism, the Posidonia meadow, extremely rich in marine biodiversity. In light of ongoing environmental challenges, including water pollution, the Port Authority recently launched the iGreenPort project to improve its environmental management capabilities.

The initiative includes the development of a data space for sharing and accessing environmental and operational data, such as seawater quality in the port from IoT sensors, in near real time. The data space is hosted on a cloud-based platform in which the different entities involved in the port can exchange data securely and efficiently. These entities can use insights derived from the platform to help conserve biodiversity, enable decision making, and monitor the progress of sustainability initiatives.

“Ports and marinas on the Balearics and other islands can be seen as hubs for innovation for the blue economy, green economy, and drivers of sustainable economic development and tourism. Decision makers need to more effectively and sustainably connect port operations and arrivals to the island’s infrastructure and economy.”

— Dolores Ordonez, vice president of Gaia-X Hub (from IDC InfoBrief, Creating a Smart and Sustainable Island Strategy)

The relationship between ports and sustainable economic development

Tourism, the mainstay of many island economies, is a competitive arena. Many in island tourism want to focus on the quality of visits rather than the quantity of visitors. As facilitators of visitor engagement with the local economy, ports are a key node of connectivity and are integral components of sustainable tourism strategies.

The Port of Palma in Mallorca has taken steps to manage tourism flows. To prevent overcrowding and enhance the visitor experience, the Port Authority and municipality have mandated that only one cruise ship and three smaller vessels can visit the island at any one time. They have also created a mobile application, WELCOME PALMA, that provides information on local transport, tourist sites, and the business of local attractions (e.g., queuing times).

Authorities are working to add more features to boost integration with local businesses, such as chatbots for personalized recommendations. There are also opportunities to create immersive experiences that promote shore excursions, such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) tours of unique island features, historical information, underwater exploration, and interactive exhibits that educate and engage visitors.

The relationship between ports and onward transport and logistics

Ports and marinas cannot operate in isolation: They must be connected to broader transport and logistics networks or risk various supply and transport bottlenecks, which have become more frequent amidst global supply chain insecurity and disruption.

Leading ports have looked to data analytics to address these challenges. The Port of Long Beach in California has created a Supply Chain Information Highway to host cargo data to provide end-to-end visibility to thousands of customers and stakeholders responsible for the movement of cargo through various transport systems.

An opportune moment to create smart and sustainable ports

European ports and marinas have a unique opportunity to not only bounce back from COVID-19 but to transform themselves into hubs of sustainable digital innovation and connectivity. Islands can seize this opportunity by accessing the NGEU, ERDF, and Horizon Europe funds and applying them to a broader smart island innovation strategy.

Read more about how to build a smart island strategy in this IDC InfoBrief. Sponsored by Amazon Web Services (AWS), the brief offers guidance and best practices to help islands chart their digital transformation journeys.

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Louisa Barker

Louisa Barker

Louisa Barker is a research manager in the European IDC Government Insights team, leading research on smart, sustainable, and resilient cities and communities. She has international experience providing analysis, policy advice, and consultancy to the public sector on disaster risk management, urban building and planning regulation, and smart cities. Previous roles have included Urban Resilience Consultant at the World Bank, focused on projects in the Caribbean and East Africa, and as a researcher at technology and innovation accelerators such as the Future Cities Catapult and the University College London City Leadership Laboratory. She is also a specialist advisor to the International Building Quality Centre. Barker holds a bachelor's degree in Geography from Durham University and a master's in urban studies from University College London.

Alex Lima

Alex Lima

Alex is currently the sustainability lead for Amazon Web Services (AWS) public sector sales in Europe, responsible for helping customers and partners meet their sustainability goals through the application of technology. Alex works in close collaboration with the broader AWS and Amazon sustainability teams to help organisations leverage AWS Cloud services in delivery of their strategies and supporting them on their sustainability journey and move to Net-Zero Carbon. Alex is passionate about sustainability and working towards a greener and more resilient world. Prior to AWS, Alex worked across different sectors and countries for multi-national organisations covering a broad range of topics including energy and environment, corporate social responsibility, cloud procurement and strategy. For over 25 years, Alex has led multiple projects from idea conceptualisation to implementation with a high level of drive, enthusiasm, and determination to deliver on vision

Avi Leisner

Avi Leisner

Avi Leisner, a senior business development manager at Amazon Web Services (AWS), brings two decades of leadership experience from the defense industry. With a background in biotech engineering, he seamlessly merges technology and scientific insight to drive innovation. Beyond his current role, Avi actively contributes to technological and sustainability initiatives, embodying an unwavering commitment to advancing the tech landscape. His passion lies in empowering the public sector and governments, elevating them as technology-driven customers and guiding them to the forefront of innovation.

Joe Dignan

Joe Dignan

Joe Dignan is the European head of government insights and a recognized smart cities subject matter expert with over 30 years of international experience in the digital transformation arena. A professional hybrid, at home in both the public and private sector, he has a background in local and regional government, universities, technology vendors such as Microsoft and EDS, and technology accelerators such as the Future Cities Catapult. He has experience of being on the World Bank’s Smart City Expert Framework, a member of the Stakeholder Group for the European Commission’s Smart Cities and Communities Group, and the EU-China smart city expert group, and is a research fellow at Kings College London Centre for Urban Science and Progress.