Putting the elements to work
Investing in renewable installations makes commercial sense, finds Alex Hughes.
With the ever-present pressure from shipping lines to deepen, lengthen and reduce charges, ports need to think laterally to ensure that they don't get sucked into a red ink vortex. One possible revenue-earning avenue that a few ports have started to pursue is using operational and non-operational areas to generate electricity from renewable sources.
In the UK, for example, Associated British Ports (ABP) has a strong track record of investing in this area. According to Alan Tinline, the company’s head of environment, this covers anything from a £310m ($440m) joint investment with Siemens to create a wind turbine blade factory in the Port of Hull, to wind turbines at the ports of Newport and Swansea. It currently has 37 installations with installed capacity of 13 megawatt (MW) peak across 15 ports. ABP is also delivering up to 23 further green energy schemes across its port estate, which will double its current renewable energy generation.
In December 2017, it announced plans to build a further 20MW of solar arrays, making the ports company one of the biggest corporate solar power producers in the UK.
Once complete, the investment could ultimately see ABP’s 21 ports become home to 100,000 solar panels generating up to 22,400,000 kilowatt hour (kWh) of clean electricity each year.
“As Britain’s biggest ports company, ABP is now emerging as a significant operator in the renewable energy market, with the current proposals representing a 250% increase on its existing capacity,” Mr Tinline says.
The solar arrays will principally be added to the roofs of 1.4m square metres of covered storage space across the ports. The energy generated will power port operations for ABP and its customers, with excess power fed into the National Grid.
ABP is also exploring other types of renewable generation around its estates, says Mr Tinline. “Not only do we play a vital role in the thriving UK offshore wind sector, but our business is increasingly a significant renewable energy generator in its own right.”
Solar and offshore wind energy are the primary targets at present, but Mr Tinline remains confident that this is just the beginning.
“We still have significant potential to further develop our ports to generate yet more clean energy, further reducing the carbon footprint both of our business and of our customers’ operations.”
ABP is also keen to ensure that it makes use of the technology that is sensitive to each location and it only utilises areas not required for operations to generate power, these being predominantly warehouse roofs. Indeed, all renewables currently planned for installation in 2018 are roof-mounted solar.
DP World, similarly, generates power from renewable sources at several ports where it operates, including at its terminals in Antwerp (Belgium), London Gateway (UK), Nhava Sheva (India) and at DP World Germersheim, in Germany.
Projects across these terminals include the use of solar panels to generate power to run beacon lights and signal lamps for internal transport vehicles, traffic lights and speed radars, water heaters and even to charge rubber-tyred gantry crane batteries.
“An example can also be seen at our port in Sokhna, Egypt, where we ran a successful project to light the main access road to the terminal with solar lighting. The new lighting runs down both sides of the road for about a kilometre. The solar lighting has made a measurable contribution to our efforts to rely less on the electricity grid,” says a spokesperson.
In India, the company has sought to harvest the country’s abundant solar resources through a grid-tied solar power plant installed at Nhava Sheva Gateway with a total installed capacity of 787 kilowatt peak.
While many of DP World’s regional projects are smaller in size, it has plans to take the DP World Solar Programme launched in Dubai - designed to more broadly adopt solar energy across its portfolio - to Egypt, the Dominican Republic, Senegal and Djibouti on a larger scale in the near future.
The aim is to replicate the success of phase one of the programme, which, once complete, will be the largest solar photovoltaic project in the Gulf Cooperation Council region and the largest solar distributed project in the Middle East. This will consist of installing 154,000 rooftop solar modules over two phases that deliver 63 gigawatt hours of clean power every year, enough to power more than 4,600 homes annually.
The DP World spokesperson notes that while the company is currently targeting on site rooftop solar energy, its overall approach is forward-thinking and long term. “We’re always on the lookout for new and innovative approaches to generating power from renewable sources.
"We are also presently conducting feasibility studies and pilot programmes in wind, tidal and wave energy. None have been ruled out, since we want to reduce our overall carbon footprint where possible.”
Clearly, such projects have to be return on investment-driven, although rates of return for DP World's renewables initiatives are planned on “a project-by-project basis and vary according to the requirements of each case and the type of renewable energy employed”. ABP's Mr Tinline agrees that ROI can vary with each project and over time. "However, we continue to invest long term in reducing our emissions and those of our customers and tenants," he says.
The energy from DP World's solar panels is first being used for the operation of local terminal facilities, while any surplus electricity produced that cannot be used immediately is credited by the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) at the retail rate, reducing the company’s electricity bill for the following month.
“We’ve engaged in on site renewable energy generation projects as a complimentary approach to our carbon dioxide equivalent emission and energy reductions programme,” the spokesperson explains. “However, energy generation is not our core business and will not impact our cargo handling capacities.”
With phase one of the Dubai renewables projects recently completed, some significant lessons will have been learnt. One of the biggest challenges, notes the spokesperson, was pioneering a solar power project in a market that wasn’t equipped to handle it – there was a lack of infrastructure, regulations, contractors, vendors and experience.
“We had to bring in the components from abroad, for example, and found it difficult to find local legal firms that had the experience of drawing up the type of contracts we needed.
“On the other hand, in partnering with other local government bodies, we all learnt to better coordinate and increase our combined regulatory experience in the field. Working with DEWA, Civil Defence, Dubai Municipality and JAFZA on the development of the project was a great learning experience for us all.”
In Spain, the Port of Barcelona maintains a single 5 megawatt photovoltaic installation at its adjacent Logistics Activity Zone (ZAL). This uses solar cells to convert energy from the sun into a flow of electrons using the photovoltaic effect. In turn, the solar cells produce direct current electricity from sunlight, which can then be used to either power equipment or recharge batteries.
Notes Jordi Vila, the port authority’s head of environment: “We believe that renewable energy has an important role to play in the fight against contamination and climate change as well as being in the best interests of people’s health. Because of this, we undertake studies periodically to evaluate the various options that could be adapted to the characteristics of our infrastructure.”
However, Mr Vila concedes that solar power probably fits best, since wind power, for example, simply wouldn’t work in the port, given the proximity to the terminal of the nearby El Prat International Airport. “A good part of the port area is included in the aeronautical easement zone that prevents the installation of tall structures,” he explains.
He also points out that current Spanish regulations relating to renewable energy do not encourage investment in this type of initiative, since self-generation facilities are effectively taxed, given that access tolls are charged when feeding electricity into the national network. “It is for this reason that we are exploring other ways of generating electricity autonomously,” he says.
Indeed, the port has good green credentials, since it is actively promoting the use of liquefied natural gas to move vessels, road haulage vehicles and yard equipment, as well as looking into alternatives to provide power to berthed vessels in the port. Furthermore, in November 2017, an initiative was launched to increase electric mobility within the port area. A budget of €1m is available, part of which is being used to add electric vehicles to the port authority’s fleet and also to provide the necessary charging facilities, which can also be used by third parties.
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