Ports must become more flexible. This is the conclusion of Poonam Taneja’s PhD research, which she successfully defended on 19 March in the Auditorium of the TU-Delft.
“The future of ports is framed with uncertainties” according to Taneja. “Ports are being confronted with new requirements with respect to function and scale, new external limitations and changing expectations. Ports that do not respond to these changes may be facing costly adaptations in the future in order to maintain their competitive position. Conventional port planning methods are too static to cope with the uncertainties. The resulting plans are based on deterministic forecasts and have no flexibility. A new planning approach is needed”.
The aim of flexibility is that the port can better adapt to a broad range of exogeneous developments, argues Taneja: “This is possible at all levels of a port system, in the physical infrastructure, in the procedures and the operational activities. The method which I have developed is called Adaptive Port Planning (APP). Practical case studies show that APP leads to flexible solutions in many different circumstances within the port”.
In practice there are many obstacles to the implementation of APP: the port sector is by nature quite conservative, infrastructure design needs to comply with legal standards that limit any innovation, and financiers do not like to hear about uncertainties and extra investments that are inherent to flexibility. Yet, the present social and economic circumstances also help to introduce the new planning approach.
The financial crisis and the broader support for sustainability make also port authorities and organizations in the port sector aware of the need for flexibility with the aim to reduce the life-cycle costs of projects. “There is a lot to do, both in training new generations of port planners and engineers, and in convincing existing port authorities and planning consultants of the merits of the new approach” says Poonam Taneja. And that is what she will be doing in the coming years, amongst other in her work at UNESCO-IHE and TU-Delft.