Also known as cold ironing or Alternative Marine Power (AMP), shore power enables ships at berth to literally plug in to a port's electrical grid system so essential functions can continue while the ship's engines are shut down. As a result, 90 percent or more of NOx, SOx and particulate emissions can be cut. And that goes a long way to reducing the industry's carbon footprint, which is currently at about three percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Photo Credit: Port of Seattle
The global maritime industry has been diligent in its drive to reduce these emissions, particularly in the past 40 years since the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) was adopted in 1973.
Of particular note is a new annex first introduced in 1997, the Regulations for the Prevention of Air Pollution from Ships (Annex VI) with subsequent updates that have continually addressed the reduction of SOx (sulfur oxide), NOx (nitrogen oxide), ODS (ozone-depleting substances) and VOC (volatile organic compounds) emissions.
Additionally, in the past few years, global Sulfur Emission Control Areas (SECAs) have been established in four major regions; the Baltic and North Seas, most of North America and the U.S. Caribbean. By 2015, MARPOL Annex VI is capping the SOx emission limits at 0.1% sulphur fuel.
Even more attention was put on shore power as a major green solution for ports when the World Ports Climate Initiative came into being in 2008, support by over 50 global ports.
Many first adopters like the Port of Los Angeles have been seeing excellent results. In 2004, the Port opened its shore power-enabled West Basin Container Terminal for AMP-equipped container vessels. In 2011, another first, the Port began offering AMP to three different cruise ship lines.
Significant emissions reductions have been realized and the push is on to reduce them even further. The San Pedro Bay Ports Clean Air Action Plan (a dual effort by the Port of LA and Long Beach) is forecasting reductions of up to 77 percent diesel particulate matter and 59 percent NOx by 2023. The Port of LA also has in place a Voluntary Environmental Ship Index Incentive Program that rewards vessels demonstrating their green efforts toward emission reduction.
Port Metro Vancouver, together with the Port of Seattle and the Port of Tacoma have created the Northwest Ports Clean Air Strategy in a similar effort. The Port of Seattle also has a vessel incentive program called At-Berth Clean Fuels that has been operating for container ships and cruise lines for the past five years.
The European Union (EU) is well into the greener focus, and for the past four years, has mandated shore power be utilized for all vessels visiting ports or a very low sulphur fuel at a 0.1 percent rating. Additionally, the EU is set to invest over $1 million in infrastructure studies for shore power.
The cost of shore power infrastructure is not cheap. Both ships and ports need (not limited to) switchboards, various breakers and disconnectors, transformers, appropriate communication links, and the very large cables necessary for connection. However, these considerations definitely outweigh the cost of human exposure to toxic emissions and the planet's vulnerability to their effect.
While the push for ships to use shore power continues to grow, keeping vessels in compliance with SECA is also critical to helping cut emissions in port areas. One example of this is the voluntary Vessel Speed Reduction program at the Port of San Diego that recognizes vessel operators who slow speed to 12 knots. The Port uses PortVision’s AIS-based vessel tracking system to automate the reporting of maximum vessel speeds for ships transiting from 20 nautical miles to the sea buoy. Initiatives that reduce emissions during arrival, departure, and berthing are forward-thinking actions that can, in the long run, contribute to a safer, more efficient maritime shipping industry.