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The Role Of Ports in Global Decarbonisation: Green Ports & Cold Ironing

At the time of writing – November 2020 – the world should have been gathering in Europe for the COP26 UN climate change conference. While the event might have been postponed for a year due to the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has certainly not become any less urgent.

While some governments around the world have been dragging their heels when it comes to embracing climate change policy, the market has clearly made up it’s mind that renewables are the only viable option for meeting the world’s future energy needs.

A Rapid Transition Isn’t Fast Enough 

According to DNV GL’s forecast, The Energy Transition Outlook, the transition to clean energy is gathering pace more quickly than previously thought. Yet however encouraging this news may be, DNV GL also found that the rate of transition is still not fast enough to stop global temperatures rising by above the well below 2℃ set out in the Paris Agreement.

The irony of the situation is that the technology necessary to curb emissions sufficiently to hit the 2050 emissions target already exists. However, technology alone is not the only factor driving the transition. 

Factors such as social acceptance, economic feasibility, political viability and developing an efficient regulatory framework are all important factors that have a large bearing on how quickly the global economy can adapt to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

Bold action is needed on a number of fronts, and maritime transportation has an important role to play if we are to meet the targets set in the Paris Agreement.

The Role Of Maritime Transportation In Climate Change

Sea transport has traditionally been seen as a “greener” form of transportation due to the face that ships emit less carbon dioxide per tonne and per kilometre than rail, truck or air transport. 

However, given that around 90% of world trade is carried by the international shipping industry and the sector is experiencing significant year-on-year growth, it represents a major source of carbon emissions. It is estimated that the maritime transport emits around 1,000 million tonnes of CO2 per annum and is responsible for about 2.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

A Two-Pronged Approach to Maritime Decarbonisation

As proponents of the role that small scale LNG (SSLNG) has to play in the process of maritime decarbonisation, BE&R is currently working to help reduce emissions in the medium term while the marine industry moves to zero emission power sources. This two-pronged approach was recently reflected in an article from the LNG Marine Fuel Institute:

“To meet the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) greenhouse gas (GHG) emission targets of 2030 and 2050, the maritime industry must take a two pronged approach, which is to grow LNG ship fleet and bunkering capacity while the complex work to develop zero emission fuels continues. 

LNG is the best commercially available marine fuel today and will remain so in the near future. The commercial availability of zero emission fuels are a decade or more away – doing nothing until they are available will result in needless GHG emissions.”

Source: https://lng-mfi.org/blogs/103-a-two-pronged-approach-to-decarbonising-shipping-the-only-way 

Green Ports: A Fantastic Decarbonisation Opportunity

As an island nation that is dependent on large-scale trade for our economic survival, Australia is more aware of the importance of ports than a lot of other countries.

Sitting at the intersection of land and sea-based transportation networks, ports host many industrial sectors including maritime, cruise tourism, oil & gas, bulk transfer, manufacturing, heavy transport, power generation, and electricity grid operators. Many port operators are being driven by their stakeholders to reduce air and noise pollution from the port activities. The conversion of a port into a green port will lead to lower energy consumption, lower emissions, and lower pollution. 

There are multiple energy users within a port, the majority of which consume fossil fuels: 

  • Onshore energy consumers such as vehicles, cranes and machinery.
  • In-port vessels, such as tugs, ferries, pilot boats.
  • Vessels visiting the port, such as containerships, bulk carriers, cruise liners. These vessels typically make-up 70-80% of the port energy demand.

To reach the emissions reduction goals that have been set, several major changes are required in ports. For energy consumers such as onshore and in-port vessels, this may involve the introduction of electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. For vessels visiting the port, shored base power could be supplied to vessels to avoid the use of diesel generators while in port.

Cold Ironing: Reducing Carbon Emissions & Pollution While In Port

A common misconception is that ships only consume power while they are burning fuel at sea. Ships in ports need to generate power for onboard facilities such as emergency equipment, refrigeration, cooling, heating and lighting. Cruise liners, large-scale bulk carriers and container ships, in particular consume large amounts of power while docked.

Currently, ship board diesel generators are commonly used to generate this auxiliary power, a process that generates large amounts of CO2 and NOX emissions along with dangerous fine particulate matter. The emissions of a berthed cruise liner, for example, can be compared to the environmental impact of a medium-sized city.

Cold ironing is the process of providing shoreside electrical power to a ship at berth while its main and auxiliary engines are turned off. While it can help to reduce pollution by cutting back the use of diesel generators, it really comes into its own when the power being supplied to berthed vessels is generated by renewable sources.

To use a real-world example to illustrate this point, the total power usage of vessels at berth in the UK in 2019 was over 641 gigawatt hours – roughly 0.5% of the UK’s total energy demand.

Research has shown that by plugging into shore side power that is generated by 100% renewable electricity, ships at berth in the UK could reduce emissions equivalent to taking 1.2 million diesel cars off their roads.

As with marine transportation fuel, ports need to adopt a two-pronged approach to emissions reduction while meeting their power supply demands.

While the implementation of 100% renewable power generation for use in cold ironing in ports is still some way off, shore side SSLNG fuelled generators can be used to replace the current use of high-polluting ship board diesel generators and reduce emissions in the short to medium term.

Yet despite the immense potential for Australian ports to play a role as important decarbonisation hubs in the future, 

Australia – A Clear Opportunity, But A Long Way To Go

Australia is one of the world’s largest producers of LNG and has the capacity to generate renewable energy on a large scale. We therefore have the opportunity to become a world leader in the adoption of green ports. In the short term, vessels visiting the port can be converted to low emission shore based cold ironing, with the longer term target being to generate all in port power requirements utilising renewable energy sources.

This will only happen if all the major players, both government and corporate, are able to work together to implement the required policy frameworks and strategies to facilitate the necessary changes.

It’s clear that the world is moving towards a carbon-free future. It’s also clear that we need to handle this transition intelligently by making the most of the technologies and energy sources that are available to us right now.