Why is a regulation required for developing Shore Side Electricity and greener ports?


Lorene Grandidier, Shore connection & Marine – Strategic Marketing Manager, Schneider Electric, Grenoble, France

When compared to other industry sectors, there are few regulations tackling shipping and port emissions. In developed nations, air quality has improved substantially since the turn of the century, despite increases in population, traffic, and economic output. However, shipping emissions have continued to rise. For example, in Europe it is estimated that nitrogen oxide (NOx) and sulphur oxide (SOx) related to shipping activity will exceed the emissions of these pollutants from all other sources come 2020.

Hopefully, the International Maritime Organization, under the Annex 6 of the Marpol regulation will oblige ship owners to progressively reduce their NOx, SOx and particulate matter emissions in order to reach acceptable targets by 2020. But the greenhouse gas emissions from ships are still not included in the countries emissions ceiling, while there is no regulation obliging ports to monitor and reduce their emissions. It is important to note that reducing a ship’s emissions when it is sailing is good, but it is much better to reduce pollution while at berth, because it is at berth that their fumes cause the greatest risk to the health of those living closest to the port. With the majority of Europe’s sizeable ports located in close proximity to densely populated urban areas, the impact it is having on human health is of grave concern. Health issues related to emissions from the shipping cost European member states as much as €58 billion per year, according to the Centre for Energy.

The only way to reduce the emissions of those ships at berth and thus cut these associated health costs is to plug vessels into the national grid, and thereby enabling them to switch off their engines. The issue here though is that the investment in shore connection systems is mostly borne by port authorities, whereas pollution-related health costs are, indirectly shouldered by governments. Mandatory regulation and an appropriate funding program are therefore required to internalise these costs and force ports to invest.

There is a second, incentive-related barrier to overcome in order to ensure more shore connection systems are deployed and port emissions are reduced. Because the technology is relatively new within the merchant shipping industry, there are currently not enough ports equipped to motivate shipping companies to retrofit their vessels, yet neither are there enough ships retrofitted to convince ports to invest in a shore power system. The only way to break this chicken and egg conundrum is to set legal obligations for the provision of this technology.

Some critics argue that because the benefits are not always proportional to the investment, shore power technology is not a “one-size-fits-all” solution and that national or regional- wide regulation mandating its installation doesn’t make sense. Let’s consider the European Union example. From an environmental perspective, whatever the ship, whatever the port, shore side electricity enables all the ships at berth to switch off their engines and produce zero emissions. But indeed, the total emissions reductions are based on the local electricity mix. The study below demonstrates that the European electricity mix is much greener than ships engines, even those running with low sulphur fuel.

From a commercial perspective, there are three European countries where the price of electricity is currently more expensive than the price of fuel, Italy, Cyprus and Malta. But when you consider rising fuel prices and the increasing adoption of even more low sulphur type fuels, it is likely that in the coming years shore side electricity will provide financial benefits for all European ship owners. Consequently, considering both environmental and financial analysis, at a European level at least, a binding regulation on shore power would make sense.

There is already a successful example of strict regulation regarding this technology. From January this year, vessels berthing in Californian ports must be equipped with a shore system, and ports are investing extensively to meet the state’s 2020 binding target of having at least 80% of ship power supplied by shore side electricity. This example is proof that implementing a binding regulation is both possible and indeed practical.

Such a decision should not hinge on the conclusion of a technology benefits assessment. The environmental benefits are clear; the technology is proven and globally standardised (see IEC/ISO/IEEE 80005-1 Standard). It is now a matter of appropriate funding and political willingness.

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