Passenger and container vessels have led the change to replace main engine power in port with shore power so that high occupancy ships can sit alongside emissions-free, but the race is now on for other ship types to follow suit as maritime decarbonization becomes more urgent.
Marcus Martelin, ABB Marine & Ports’ Vice President for Electric Services, Shore Connection and Hybrid Solutions says he has detected a significant change in sentiment recently.
“As environmental issues climb the agenda, it’s no longer a question of if, but when,” he says, referring to ships plugging in to shore-based power systems. ‘Cold ironing’, as it is known, prevents air pollution and, in ports where sustainable electricity is available, enables ships to carry out carbon-free port operations.
“US west coast cruise ports were front-runners, but cold-ironing systems have since been commissioned across ports in Europe and Asia, including China, Japan and Singapore. Last year, in South Korea, we installed Port of Incheon’s first shore power system,” Martelin explains.
If shore connection systems used to be ‘nice-to-have’ add-on for ports, there has been a shift in perception, according to Martelin: ship operators and port authorities are starting to see shore power as an operational necessity. There is also a growing corporate social responsibility imperative to cut emissions.
“The key criterion for a shore connection installation has traditionally been payback time,” explains Martelin. “In a passenger ferry operation, for example, this might depend on how many hours a day a ship was tied up in port. The more time, the stronger the business case. But the emphasis has changed. Port executives are now measuring landside benefits on the basis of sustainable operation and commitments to the environment, with payback time lower among priorities.”
“We expect that the vast majority of newbuild vessels will be capable of connecting to shore power systems in the future and we also see a substantial retrofit market across many commercial ship types. Port authorities are keener than ever to provide robust shore power systems. In Europe, the pioneering Scandinavian countries are now being joined by ports and terminals in Germany, the Netherlands and Mediterranean facilities in Spain, France and Italy.”
Meanwhile, the increasing adoption of hybrid power systems incorporating batteries on vessels in the cruise, ferry and offshore sectors creates a generation of vessels whose technologies align with power sources from shore. Many ships still use diesel generators to provide electricity for charging batteries. ABB’s Shore Connection can supply electricity generated ashore instead. This has a potential for creating a zero-emission cycle, if the energy been developed from a sustainable power source, such as hydroelectricity in Norway, for example, or offshore wind in Germany.
Martelin identifies inland waterway and coastal short-distance markets as important targets. “This traffic will move towards zero-emissions in the future,” he predicts. “Batteries will need to be charged frequently, fast and in an automated manner. For vessels equipped with a direct current (DC) system, it’s economically and technically more feasible to transfer power in DC to reduce the number of components in the system.”
The necessary shoreside infrastructure for the ABB Shore Connection varies widely from country to country and ship to ship. However, typically it includes transformers; switchgears; circuit breakers; frequency converters; control systems; and fully redundant ship-shore communication based on fiber optics, Wi-Fi or radio. Civil works ashore might typically include cabling and secure buildings for electrical installations.
“When we say ‘grid to propeller’, we emphasize the full portfolio of shore connection solutions that we offer. As well as the shoreside infrastructure, that includes pulling the electricity from the port’s grid, having the charging system to feed the electricity to the ship’s power plant and, when energy storage installed, even powering the propulsion.”
Martelin stresses the need for systems to comply with standards set out by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). The standards need to be broadened and enforced, he says, adding that not all ships comply, and neither do some shoreside power arrangements. Typically, shoreside installations represent most of the cost of an ABB Shore Connection but the fact that ABB supplies both ship and port installations ensures that systems are perfectly integrated. Aboard ship, work scopes also vary widely: some retrofits can be undertaken whilst vessels lie alongside; others are more effectively undertaken during routine docking.
So, how big is the global market? Martelin is optimistic in his reply. “Well, l think that most new vessels will have ship-shore power connections in the future, but how soon is difficult to say. I can say with confidence that whatever the number is, it’s very big.”