Powering up shore supply

17 Sep 2015
The ports of LA and Long Beach are ramping up to shorepower for all their box terminals

The ports of LA and Long Beach are ramping up to shorepower for all their box terminals

Plugging into shore power is about to get a lot more accessible, finds Stevie Knight

So far cold ironing, or ship to shore power, has been investment heavy, relying on bespoke engineering solutions which reinvent, if not the wheel, then at least the substation.

Some years ago it was hoped that, like the ferry link between Stockholm and Helsinki, gains from each call adopting the same engineering would make the technology ‘infectious’. It didn’t happen and outside the US its take-up is still patchy.

Why? Well, there’s still little in the way of standardisation, an issue that has dogged both lines and ports and meant costs have stayed fairly high. Helsinki’s environmental manager Aino Rantanen admits that the case for cold ironing turned on a couple of very specific points, including savings from identical technology already in place at in Stockholm. Even given this leg up, Helsinki’s bill still worked out at around E1.4m in total.

However, according to Peter Selway of Schneider Electric, the economic equation is reaching a tipping point: “Escalating fuel prices, lines looking to shave pennies off costs and the squeeze from sulphur regulations are coming together to create ‘a perfect storm’,” he says, pointing to a new European directive requiring low sulphur fuel for any vessel stays over two hours.

So the arguments for cold ironing are beginning to break out of their old confines. Mr Selway says that “requests are coming directly from the shipping companies, and it’s not just the cruise lines now, ferry companies, box lines and even ro-ro operators are showing interest”. He adds that while containerships have comparatively low power requirements, generally only 1.5MVA to 2MVA, they can be connected in as little as 20 minutes, with others like ferries taking a little longer.

 

Out ahead

Los Angeles and Long Beach are – as usual – front runners, having just announced all 13 of their international cargo terminals are going to be cold ironing ready by the end of 2013. There’s an amount of ‘feedback’ into the legislation loop too: the State of California is never very far behind the ports so it will be a requirement that half of the fleet calling at California box terminals will be shore powered from the start of next year. 

Chris Cannon, LA’s environmental manager, explains that it’s worthwhile helping to define the curve as well as being ahead of it. He says that although cruise ships have been the first, more obvious focus, there’s a growing awareness of the different strands to these environmental issues. “The box terminals generate sizable emissions, if you include handling equipment, drayage and so on, but a significant proportion of those emissions still emanate from the ship just sitting there running ‘hotelling’ functions like the lights off the auxiliary generators,” he says.

Mr Cannon’s point is that there’s a business case which rests on more than payback for the investment, which he estimates at around $10m per berth. “It is about the opportunities to bring in more cargo; city ports like ours can only expand if the terminals can show they won’t be spreading the bad air around the nearby residences,” he says. “It’s the only way we can grow, and we are not alone in this.”

They certainly aren’t. Faced with deteriorating air in city ports, a number of Asian operations are also looking beyond the big cruise terminals (like Hong Kong’s Kai Tak) to expand the types of vessel having shore power potential. Tanjung Priok in Indonesia has asked Schneider for cold ironing solutions for 18 box terminals, China already has limited connections in Shenzhen and Shanghai which it’s looking to upgrade, but possibly more interesting is that all new Chinese ro-pax, cruise and box terminals are going to have cold ironing capability designed in at the build stage.

However, most areas are burdened by a more complicated set up than their US counterparts, having to convert the flavour of their electricity from 50Hz to 60Hz for use onboard. Mr Selway explains that it means stepping the voltage down via large transformers to make the frequency change, then stepping it up again – it all adds to the bulk on berth, and the bill.

 

Powerful talk 

Despite this, there’s a powerful economic argument for cold ironing. “We’ve worked out it actually costs around 25% less to bring in the power from a landside connection than to generate it onboard using sulphur compliant fuel,” says Mr Selway, adding that even if ports charge a premium there’s plenty of room for the ship to make savings too.

It makes sense not to have to redesign every time. Schneider Electric has put together a pre-engineered solution which puts most of the workings in a 40ft container. A tried and tested modularised system the ShoreBoX can be moved or scaled up if need be, and a slice of efficiency is gained from the control software which also tells a port who to bill and for how much. “It’s faster and more cost effective,” says Mr Selway, “more like buying a Ford Mondeo than putting a car together from scratch.”

So, while it’s still not exactly cheap, this kind of kit can generate a substantial income and Mr Selway puts the payback time at only around four years for many facilities.

Despite this, the other complication to the source supply is that you can’t just take it for granted. It’s not just a question about infrastructure maturity; Mr Selway explains some of the most established regions “are flying close to the wire”, with cities in places like Canada and the UK among those that may not have a lot of power to spare. “Although I don’t want to overstate this, ports do have to check,” he says, underlining the need for a complete power audit at the start.

However, he does say that even if there is not quite enough power in the network behind, “simply cracking open a generator on the dock and feeding it isn’t the answer as that’s what we are trying to get away from”. His point is that a power station is going to be far, far more efficient than any on-dock generation will be as well as reintroducing the emissions, vibration and other pollution.

Further, Mr Selway believes that at least the need for power is recognisably something that affects everyone. “A port, city and even the state may well see these issues as a shared problem and taken on together, the challenges are not insurmountable,” he concludes. 

By Stevie Knight  

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