From cold ironing to electric bunkering

Cold ironing, as it is known,  has come a long way, and with hybrid power systems on the market, will likely evolve further as a new term, “electric bunkering”, begins to be heard more.

This week K-Line said one of its Norwegian offshore vessels, KL Sanderfjord, had become the first to have a “shore power” notation by DNV GL.  This means K-Line contracted the class society to verify that the design and installation of the on-board electrical systems of the vessel met class requirements for systems which can take shore-sourced electricity onboard.

The vessel is now able to connect to electricity provided at the Port of Bergen, Norway, its home port. For vessels in Norway the ability to gain this notation, and similar notations from other class societies that have them, means that the vessels could also fall under the Norwegian NOx fund, a strong incentive over the years for many such initiatives in the country.

Shore-sourced power is a growing requirement in places like the ports of California and the European Union has said it wants European ports to be able to offer shore based electricity to ships by 2025.

No choice. Los Angeles, California, The US State makes liner companies connect their vessels to shore power when they berth.

The argument for shore to ship electricity and for battery power

The push to have shore based electricity available for ships arose out of the demands for ships to reduce their emissions in ports. Regulations in Europe in 2009 saw a requirement that ships in Europe curtail Sox emissions in ports, and local pressure due to perceived health risks of locals put increased pressure, particularly with evidence of a link between poor health and NOx emissions.

Not much to look at: A shore connection box in the Swedish port of Gothenburg

Many large ships switch from main engines to auxiliary (but still diesel) engines once alongside, using these to provide hotel loads, power for cargo operations and any emergency needs. Switching to shore-based power systems allows for a reduction of fuel consumption and costs, though how much depends on how much vessels have to pay for the electricity, and as some environmental groups point out, the source of the electricity the vessels then use.

Ports may take their electricity from oil or coal fired power station, thus shifting the environmental issues inshore rather than solving them, but some do however provide electricity from renewable sources, and country’s like Norway, despite their economy revolving around the oil and gas industry, has a huge amount of hydroelectric power at its disposal.

Of course, having such connection also act as good kudos for shipowners wanting to paint a green image.

Like cold ironing, hybrid systems and electric propulsion systems reduce more than the health-related emissions. They can do away with, or significantly reduce, hydrocarbon fuel on the vessel altogether and therefore cut fuel costs and CO2 emissions.

Electric Vision. The Vision of the Fjords in Norway epitomises the drive of electric ships in the country

Again, it is in Norway that the electric powered ferry started, though other countries, such as Finland, also have their own. And all these ferries, while also having fuel cells in some cases, need rapid charging.

Playing with electricity

But using high voltage electricity does not come without risks. The DNV GL electrical shore connection class rules cover safety requirements for a vessel’s on-board electrical shore connection. The shore power notation ensures a safe and efficient way of performing the connection and disconnection of shore power by verifying and checking the total system of the electrical shore connection for what the class society sees as a future proof technology.

Lloyd’s Register has a similar OPS notation that owners can strive for, and like many of the IACS members it developed guidelines when standards were created a few years ago by the ISO, the IEC and the IEEE.

It points out that power and control equipment need to be operated by trained and authorised crew, and for safety procedures are to be clearly established to avoid electrical fault and/or danger to personnel.

The market abuzz

There are a hald dozen companies producing systems for ship or prot side connections, Such as Cavotec, Wärtsilä, Schneider-Electric, Siemens, Sweden’s Processkontroll EL and ABB.

ABB installed its first shore to ship power installation at the port of Gothenburg, Sweden in 2000 (where Processkontroll has systems too) and Cavorted has a large number of systems around the world particularly in California.

The Port of Gothenburg confirmed that today it has three high voltage (7-11 kV) connections that are used daily by Stena, and two low voltage (400v) systems, one used 2-10 times a year and the other used continuously by Stena Line. A fourth system is currently under construction and will be in service towards the end of this year.

Stena Line is the biggest user of cold ironing in the Port of Gothenburg

In 2016, 35 % of port calls could connect to onshore power supply the port told Fathom-News.

A quick online check reveals over 30 ports with AMP provision already and a growing number of ships with the systems installed, but there are some signs that interest has slowed down in the last couple of years. But despite that there is an evolution of the market.

Innovation begets innovation

Daniel Feger probably falls into the category of a dedicated innovator looking to get an industry to buy into his invention.

A Frenchman he has not seen his homeland take up his idea, but Norway, home of the NOx fund its interest in electric powered transportation.

What Feger created was a cable system that allows vessels to quickly connect to a shore based power system when they come alongside in port.

The idea of using shore based electrical power on ships is not new, it even has a quaint more traditional name, cold ironing, from the days when vessels would be able to let their boilers go cold when berthed for lengthy periods.

Daniel Feger and the NG3 PLUG system on Color Magic

Feger’s system can be found on the Color Line vessels that run between Norway and Denmark. He tells Fathom that the reason he has had his first success there rather than in a region such as California is because the Color Line employees simply refused to touch the electric systems.

His system is as near to automatic as it can be and the crews on Color Magic, the first vessel to have his PLUG system, from his company NG3, installed were wary of touching electricity in the very cold dark wet Oslo quayside in winter

It takes just minutes for his PLUG system to be connected and for the Color vessels to switch to shore power- his company had such a success with the Color Magic he was contracted to install the same system across other Color Line ferries.

He compares this to the 45 minutes needed to connect some of his competitor’s systems.

The next step in the evolution of Feger’s system is to fully automate the process of connecting the ship to the shore power, he says.

However, he does recognise there is a challenge. The standards that have been agreed and have led to the processes in the West coast of the US rely on the local longshoreman to do the connection work, and in California the unions can have a strong influence in how processes evolve.

One of his existing orders is for Color Lines giant hybrid newbuilding, which will use his system to recharge its batteries.

Also in Norway the Port of Olso, DNV GL, Cavotec and ABB have teamed up for the ReCharge project. IN this project vessel movements, and the onboard technology are used to map out pollution hotspots in the port and what infrastructure is available. Therefore ships and routes that are suitable for electric propulsion are being identified and therefore the costs, return of investment and emissions profile calculated to give a more thorough approach to investments.

The next steps

Using shore power to reduce hydrocarbon based emissions from diesel generators has evolved to providing much needed electric power for a growing number of hybrid and electric ships.  This is the evolution of electricity, for the maritime sector.

Whether it is being used for the rapid recharging of batteries or supplying hotel and cargo equipment loads, for class societies the concept is similar. There are differences in the technology as one is power for rapid and specific battery recharging and the other is for electrical needs whilst alongside.

The latest technologies in the market provide a very high energy in a short time, for example a recent LR-classed ferry makes a crossing in 20 minutes and has a very short charging time at pier by a robot-based shore connection system that provides 10MW at 10kV.

Automation and electrification are technology bedfellows where the former needs the latter, and the latter is safer with the former in place.


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