Port of Long Beach: public financing ‘critical’ for ports to join electrification movement

View of the San Pedro waterfront and the Port of Los Angeles.

Public financing is “critical” for ports and terminals to take on the risk of investment in electrical equipment and resilience.

The availability of zero-emissions electricity-powered cargo handling equipment – such as electrical Rubber-Tyred Gantry (RTG) cranes – is still in limited supply and development, meaning that some ports are hesitant to make significant investments in the equipment for their customers, favouring diesel-powered instead.

Matthew Arms, Director of Environmental Planning at the Port of Long Beach (PoLB), said the port has launched six projects to demonstrate zero-emissions equipment and advanced energy systems in port operations including RTG cranes and Electrical Vehicle (EV) planning.

The Southern California port received nearly $80 million in total grant funding from the California Energy Commission (CEC) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

“Our 2017 Clean Air Action Plan established super aggressive goals for having 100% of cargo equipment be zero emissions by 2030,” Arms told PTI.

“We wanted be part of that catalyst that helps push the technology. In 2017, and still today, there wasn’t commercially-available zero emissions cargo handling equipment.”

Arms continued that there are three elements to that procurement process: the technology, the infrastructure available, and the funding.

“This equipment is a big risk for a terminal: it’s not commercially available, it’s a prototype. There’s a huge premium on it.

“I think in the short term, and maybe near-midterm, then the public financing to help take on that risk and to incentivise a terminal operator to want to take on that risk is critical.”

Arms explained that these emerging technologies “are not at all cheap, and it’s not at all guaranteed”.

“So how are you going to get a terminal operator to say: ‘I am going to put a risk to my operations, to pay a premium for it’?” he asked.

“All of our terminal operators are committed to the [zero emissions] goal, so they want to participate, but I think it takes that public financing, at least in the near term to push these technologies towards commercialisation has to make business sense to function.”

Californian ports have been at the forefront of innovation and ambition in reducing its carbon emissions and fossil fuel consumption.

Arms believes success from the six zero-emissions projects will be for Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to see use cases from the likes of PoLB, develop, and sell electricity-centric yard equipment for ports with fewer resources to harness.

“The Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are huge, but in the grand scheme of cargo handling equipment and heavy duty trucks, we are a drop in the bucket,” he said.

“We cannot be the market driver. To get to the success other ports and other supply chain sectors also have to make the transition as well. As we see the OEMs start to produce zero-emissions equipment, and other ports and sectors start to adopt the technology and the equipment, I think that’s exciting.”

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