Port electrification a key component of meeting zero emission shipping targets


Despite transporting around 80 per cent of global trade, shipping accounts for a modest 3 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. But, in absolute terms, this is still 940 million tonnes of CO2 being emitted every year.

Ports and harbours are often overlooked in this calculation, but are large energy users and emitters of CO2. However, according to leading energy company Vattenfall, the vast majority of ports and harbours energy requirements could be provided by carbon-free electricity, making them important contributors in cutting shipping’s greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent by 2050.

The recent much-publicised ‘Call to Action for Shipping Decarbonisation’ was supported by leading signatories from across the maritime value chain, including shipping, cargo, energy, finance, ports and infrastructure. Ports and harbours in particular offer great potential for decarbonising shipping, by turning them into carbon neutral smart hubs.

Andy Hyndman of energy firm, and British Ports Association member, Vattenfall, said: “Ports such as Immingham, London and Milford Haven are massive industrial complexes, with a high reliance on diesel powered equipment.

“Port operators are under increasing pressure to lower their carbon output, which can be achieved by transitioning to full electrification – but the shift will require a major upgrade of their electrical network and infrastructure.”

Ports and harbours face the task of decoupling from today’s reliance on fossil fuels to renewably sourced energy, and electricity is the only scalable way to achieve that. This will range from electrifying cranes and materials handling equipment, to container trucks and even trains. Electrifying ports and harbours can also cut CO2 on ships, by providing shore-to-ship battery charging and ‘cold ironing’ services that power ships while they are in berth, allowing them to shut down their diesel engines.

“If managed properly, electrification will help ports operate more efficiently, reduce costs and meet their carbon reduction targets,” added Hyndman.

In this electrified future, power cuts and temporary ‘brown outs’ are real possibilities without significant upgrades to electrical infrastructure, with large commercial ramifications for port operators. Avoiding these requires careful management of a site’s electrical infrastructure according to a network asset management plan.

Such plans should timetable the servicing and possible replacement of any old transformers, switchgear and cables and can also map out the integration of renewable energy, solar, heat, battery storage and electric vehicle charging infrastructure for operational, staff and public transport vehicles.

Rather than manage the transition to electrification themselves, ports and harbours can outsource this responsibility to third party suppliers. Companies such as Vattenfall can go one step further. Ports’ high voltage assets can be transferred to suppliers in their entirety for 10 years in return for an asset transfer value, paid by supplier.

Under the model, known as Power-as-a-Service, the supplier becomes the legal owner of the electrical infrastructure and holds the asset failure risk, covers asset replacement costs and all operations and maintenance activities for a fixed fee. At the end of the initial ten years, the assets can be returned to the port or the agreement extended.

“Managing the transition to electrification is a big challenge for ports and harbours,” concluded Hyndman. “Many will not have the expertise or resources to fund the required capital expenditure. But there are options available that incur no upfront Capex, with the risk and expense being borne by a third-party electrical expert over a prolonged period. We are ready and waiting to help UK ports become fossil free within one generation.”

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