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Introducing onshore power sources would support the decarbonisation of shipping

08 February 2022

Following the news that the UK Government is calling for evidence on the use of shore power, Jonathan Moss, partner and Head of Marine and Trade at DWF, comments on the benefits and challenges of shore power. 

He said: "Introducing onshore power sources whilst ships are berthed would be a positive contribution to cutting toxic emissions that enter the air, supporting the decarbonisation of shipping. Currently berthed ships keep their idling diesel engines running at ports to power lighting, galleys and other crucial amenities needed for staff and others on board the ship. The exhausts from these diesel engines produce CO2 and other air pollutants as well as noise pollution and vibration. This is harmful to the health of the ship's crew, as well as people living and working near and around the area of the ship terminal. 

"Ships would be able to shut down their engines while berthed and plug an electrical cable extended from the peer (an onshore power source) to an onboard transformer, allowing an uninterrupted power supply to be transferred for onboard services. This would improve air quality and reduce CO2 emissions, one of the key contributors to global warming. This has become increasingly important since governments and organisations are being confronted with rising community expectations in terms of environmental safety.  

"Research will be able to indicate the likelihood of reduction in emissions depending on the emission factors of the power plants feeding the local or national grid to provide the electricity. If wind turbines and hydropower were used as a power supply there would be no pollutant emission whatsoever. Human exposure to air pollutants will need to be considered, but if renewable energy is used, near zero-emissions of many air pollutants could be achieved. So, while the goals of the decarbonisation of shipping programme by 2040 and even the Paris Agreement which state 'the shipping industry must use zero carbon fuels at scale by 2030 and be fully decarbonised by 2050' are considered ambitious by many, the introduction of onshore power could eradicate these apprehensions. 

"The costs for providing this type of onshore power supply will be significant, however. Many tankers and vessels are similar but not identical, meaning there will be specific technical requirements for each ship that could be difficult to apply equally. Consideration of investment for power receiving points, power sockets and power management systems of older ships that were not built with these will need to be reviewed. Nevertheless, newer built ships are likely to have these systems in place which would significantly reduce costs. There needs to be a clear desire from all shipowners and cargo owners to encourage investment and research and development. So far the voices from the industry are somewhat muted in parts.  The pace of technological advancement needs to quicken. The shipping, finance and technology sectors and governments must work together and commit both financial resources and skilled manpower for the projects. The compliance and regulatory framework needs to encourage change and not stand in the way of companies reaching decarbonisation goals. Whilst today's call to arms is welcomed, there needs to be  focus on the precise means by which these aims will be realised.
"Standardisation of onshore power supply would need to be measured. Currently, not all ships would be able to connect to onshore power. No international standard is in place, so only few vessels have the required technology, and many differing in voltages, frequency and technical solutions. Many parts of the world use different electrical frequencies so not all ships would be able to connect to certain ports. Evidence suggests standardisation would be applicable internationally for ship technology, increasing installation and equipment compatibility and lower costs. The port of Kiel, Germany, currently uses a cloud-based power monitoring system which provides an easily accessible and transparent view of power consumption that could be applied to most ports when looking at efficiency. Also, if demands were to change concerning particular vessels, they would be able to easily move between ports with onshore supply systems. 

"The challenges associated with onshore power supply could be addressed by government policies and strategies, including funding and subsidising costs of the electricity and electrical equipment for onshore power. Most European ports have joined ESI programmes, with 4,000 vessels globally installing environmentally friendly technologies, including shore power. Prioritising port sustainability and social responsibility will be key to the future development of ports which are dedicated to reducing toxic emissions."

read more about the UK Government decision

Further Reading