The IMO 2020 low Sulphur regime for marine fuels and aspirations to halve Greenhouse Gasses from ships by 2050 have focused attention on alternative energy sources such as biofuels, batteries, and marine fuel cells. But, while small and pilot projects continue to grab attention, less has been said on how these alternatives can be developed at scale for merchant shipping. Can an industry raised on the internal combustion engine expect the same type of ‘one size fits all’ solutions? This paper considers how the realities, complexities and potential of shipping's energy alternatives demand a newly flexible approach in ship design if proposals to electrify the merchant fleet are to flourish.

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