Ports and the shipping industry are increasingly under pressure to improve their environmental performance and new international regulations are coming into force. New technologies and business models will have to be deployed if those industries are to be compliant with regulations in a cost effective way. Amongst the new technologies, shore connection, which supplies electrical power to ships at berth, is currently the most advanced and sustainable solution in the long term. According to a recent study (University of Louvain, Belgium 2012), there are currently about 150 berths worldwide equipped with a shore connection system. The recently released IEC/ ISO/IEEE 80005-1 standard will accelerate the global deployment of this technology.
This article focuses on the capability of the shore connection solution to reduce port pollution and help ships meet current and future regulations. It also presents the best compliant practices that will help ports, terminal operators and ship owners to make shore connection a safe, efficient and green investment.
Concerns about shipping pollution
Over the last decade, public concerns regarding air pollution from shipping have increased. Despite being recognised as the greenest form of transport, most ships burn heavy fuel oils with high sulphur contents. Every year in fact, the shipping industry emits several million tons of particulate matter (PM), sulphur oxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and carbon dioxide (CO2). Studies estimate that this activity is currently responsible for three to five percent of global CO2 emissions, 15 percent of NOx emissions and five to eight percent of SOx emissions. Given that nearly 70 percent of those emissions occur within 400 kilometres of land, ships make a significant contribution to air pollution in coastal and ports areas. The consequences for human health and the surrounding environment can be serious: recent European studies assume that international shipping kills about 50,000 people a year in Europe and costs society about 60,000 million.
Stricter environmental regulations
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) takes the problem of shipping air pollution seriously. The MARPOL Annex VI regulations already set a timeframe to progressively reduce fuel NOx and SOx content. Ships will have no other choice but to use lower sulphur fuel or opt for alternative technologies.
The IMO environmental committee (MEPC) meets several times a year to address current topics. Last year, existing regulations were reinforced by adding two new tools to the MARPOL VI convention of July 2011 to reduce ships’ CO2 emissions: the energy efficiency design index (EEDI) and the ship energy efficiency management plan (SEEMP). Both will be mandatory by 2013. The latest MEPC, to be held in London, should make progress on market-based measures to tackle CO2 emissions. Some countries, where shipping emissions are a major source of port pollution, have implemented stricter regulations for ships at berth. In Europe, vessels berthing for more than two hours have to switch to a 0.1 percent sulphur fuel or use alternative technologies such as shore side electricity. In the US, the California Air Resource Board requires ships to be equipped with a shore connection system; otherwise they will not be able to berth in a Californian port from 2014.
Shore connection cuts pollution
The shore connection system is probably the most environmentally efficient technology. It is estimated that this technology enables a global reduction of ships’ emissions of CO2 by 50 percent, of sulphur by 96 percent, of NOx by 97 percent and of PM by 96 percent compared with the use of 2.7 percent sulphur residual oil. Of course, the global reduction is dependent on the type of power generation sources on land, but the pollution generated is likely to be produced in less densely populated areas than those surrounding the bigger ports and many improvements have been introduced to limit air pollution from power plants. Ports that have implemented a shore connection solution report major local environmental benefits. For example, the Port of Los Angeles, which has been a pioneer in the implementation of this technology, reports a 95 percent NOx, SOx and PM reduction per vessel call.
Meeting regulations in a cost effective way
With this technology, ships can turn off their engines while at berth and use electricity from the grid. This enables them to cut their energy bills now that marine fuel oil is reaching record highs. In most countries, electricity is not only greener than the use of heavy fuel but also much cheaper. By saving fuel, ships save money and so, depending on several parameters mentioned below, ships can enjoy a quick payback time. This trend is expected to increase, as the American coasts join the Baltic, the North Sea and the English Channel to become emissions control areas. In these special zones, ships are currently allowed to burn one percent sulphur content fuel. After several debates, the European sulphur directive has finally been approved (14 September 2012) by the European parliament in Strasburg and ships sailing in these zones will have to switch to a 0.1 percent fuel by 2015, which will increase demand for marine diesel oil and so prices.
By selling electricity to ships, shore connection technology also opens up new opportunities for ports. Depending on several parameters, such as the occupation rate of berths and electricity prices, ports could reduce the payback time of these installations while preserving air quality.
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