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In-Depth Industry Insight: The Electric Future

This feature was originally publishing in Ship Efficiency Review magazine issue 09 – click here to download a free digital copy 

The global electrification trend is rapidly expanding in the shipping industry, driven by the challenge of improving air quality and reducing noise at global ports associated with berthed ships.

Onshore power supply is known to many as ‘cold ironing’ in reminiscence of a time when ships had coal-fired engines that would go cold when the ship’s crew stopped stoking the engine with coal when in port. These days, cold ironing represents the practice of a ship’s main engines being shut off when the ship is berthed, the flow of diesel fuel being halted and the ship connecting to onshore power supply so that it runs solely off electricity.

In the last few years there has been a flood of interest in shore power within the commercial shipping industry, investments in the technology and infrastructure  is growing and this practice that once was pioneered by the military for naval ships is now increasingly been invested in for use by commercial ships.

This uptake of shore power by the commercial industry has in part been accelerated by the fact that ships are responsible for around 50% of the total air emissions emitting from ports and the regulators are cracking down on ship emissions and environmental impact.

Powering a berthed ship from a port’s electrical grid is a major method of reducing SOx, NOx, particulate matter, VOC, and depending on the electricity mix available, COgeneration. Many sources quite that shore power offers a staggering 95% emission reduction potential. Also, noise and the vibrations linked to the use of auxiliary engines at berth are a common nuisance for port area residents. These vibrations are completely eliminated when shore power is utilised.

The demand from ship operators for shore power has also increased as they strive to meet increasingly stringent environmental regulations in ports. The presence of shore power infrastructure in ports makes them more attractive, especially to cruise operators and offshore vessels.

However, a significant barrier to shore power uptake for commercial shipping ports previously inhibited widespread investment in the technology at the start of this decade. This barrier was the lack of an international standard for shore connection systems.

Various ship voltages and frequencies, and vendor- and site-specific cable connections meant that a ship was more likely to be tied to a single port than to be able to take advantage of other ports with shore power available. A shore connection standard is very much a lynchpin because ships are going from one continent to another berthing in different ports, amongst many different ship types. Interoperability between all these ship types and ports was a major factor that had to be overcome through an international standard adoption in order for the investment floodgates to open.

This barrier was overcome through the adoption of the international standard IEC/ ISO/IEEE 80005-1 in 2012. This standard specifies voltage, cables, plugs and major safety requirements for each ship type. Effectively, this new standard enables ships to plug into any port worldwide.

Another factor that sways the ports decision to invest in shore power technology, like any other technology investment decision, is the financial benefits.

For ports, the process of weighing up the environmental and financial benefits against the upfront investment for the electrical system in port and costs associated with providing onshore power, such as maintenance and electricity costs, is the first step.

It is widely reported that providing onshore power can offer an attractive business case for ports: by selling electricity for slightly more than purchase prices, onshore power represents a new revenue axe for port entities. Furthermore, it can increase the port’s attractiveness to ship owners and operators and boost business.

Then, return on investment calculations are a function of the occupation rate of the berth, the power supplied and the differential between energy purchase and selling price.

According to shore power giants Schneider Electric, the investment in their ShoreBox shore power solution can be recouped within four years and they advise that ports seek out regional funding streams that can support shore power investments, for example in Europe that available under the TEN-T (Trans- European Transport Network) framework.

This time last year, the Port of Bergen officially opened its shore power system for offshore supply vessels (OSV) by connecting the anchor handler Skandi Vega, a DOF Group vessel to the Norwegian grid. At the opening ceremony at the port, representatives stated that if all OSVs were to connect to Bergen’s shore, annual savings could lead up to EUR 320,000 and to a whopping EUR 21million if all ships used onshore power.

From a ship owner’s perspective, to take advantage of shore power at ports the ship first needs to be made ‘shore power ready’ by installing shore-power cable receptacles and an associated electrical management system. This cost is much lower for newbuilds that are constructed with shore power connection equipment, as opposed to making structural changes to retrofit an existing ship with the same equipment. While costs can vary significantly, Schneider Electric estimates that incorporating shore power equipment into a newbuild would typically cost around EUR 8,000 as opposed to anywhere in-between EUR 200,000-500,000 for existing ships.

In light of the emissions and noise reduction potential and the financial investment and returns, shore power remains a growing choice for many ports.

This feature was originally publishing in Ship Efficiency Review magazine issue 09 – click here to download a free digital copy 

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