New technology makes shore power obsolete

The incumbent approach for reducing emissions from vessels at berth is shore power. However, a new technology makes shore power obsolete. Shore power is costly, inflexible, and is only about 50% effective. Furthermore, this new technology is considerably more effective at reducing global warming than shore power.

Shore Power Misses Half of Vessel Emissions

The San Pedro Bay Ports (Los Angeles and Long Beach) have the most extensive shore power program in the world. These ports spent ~$330 million on shore-side infrastructure and the fleets spent nearly $1 million per vessel to install shore power on each ship. However, by the time shore power will be fully-implemented in the year 2020, shore power will miss about half of the available emissions as follows:

  • 25% - Anchorage. For example, in LA and Long Beach, anchorage emissions were roughly the same as the emissions eliminated by shore power in 2015.

  • 11% - Exempt Vessels. Shore power is not flexible enough to be used on all vessels, therefore 100% compliance cannot be mandated.

  • 9% - Boiler emissions. Turning the diesel generators off still leaves the boilers emitting. This is also an issue for tankers, which are predominately powered by boilers.

  • 9% - Other Vessel Types. Shore power is cost-effective for only certain vessels, such as large container ships and passenger ships that make frequent visits. Other vessel types either cannot use shore power effectively or shore power is not cost-effective.

Fleet Issues with Shore Power

Shore power has been in existence for 50 years, but there are still issues. Fleets are complaining that shore power is not reliable. Frequently, the location of the shore-side receptacles does not line up with the plug on the vessel. Some berth / ship combinations do not work together. In some cases, there is not enough power to supply some of the larger vessels.

Shore power is expensive, especially in terms of the capital expense required to retrofit the berths and every vessel that calls. Shore-side retrofits typically cost about $5M per berth. Although the fleets were not directly charged for these retrofits, these costs eventually will be passed on. Vessel retrofits cost about $1M per vessel. If the vessel is large and returns frequently, this may not be much of an issue. However, for ships that call infrequently and stay only a short time at berth, these costs can be very significant.

If a vessel operator wants to retrofit a vessel, it is likely that they will not be able to retrofit the vessel for shore power during the vessel’s normal dry dock schedule. Therefore, it is common that vessels must be pulled from service for a few weeks, which can be very expensive.

When shore power was initially justified over a decade ago, the electricity costs were low and much of the grid was substantially powered by coal-fired power plants. As the grid becomes greener, the cost of electricity will continue to climb. Electrical rates were kept artificially low initially, but rates in some cases are now typically increasing by 5% per year, thereby doubling the cost of electricity in 15 years.

Shore power can interfere with vessel operations. If a shore power container is in the wrong location when a vessel arrives at a berth and the shore-side receptacle does not line up with the plug on the vessel, then many containers must be moved so that the shore power container can be moved to the proper location. This container relocation procedure can take hours and interrupt the normal operation of the container cranes.

Shore power limits the flexibility in choosing vessels for certain routes. For some shippers, routes and container volumes can change quickly. These fleets may want to charter a vessel for a unique route on short notice. However, almost no charter vessels have been retrofitted for shore power.

Every vessel / berth combination must go through commissioning to prove that the vessel / berth combination works. Frequently this commissioning fails, and the vessel must attempt the commissioning again on the next voyage. Commissioning costs can be expensive - there is a port commissioning fee and a charge from the contractors that supply the shore power equipment.

What about Global Warming?

The California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, AB 32, requires California to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. To be fair, the burden of reducing GHG was spread over every industry. As a result, 1% of GHG emissions reductions were assigned to shore power. However, this may not be the most efficient way to reduce GHG emissions. Other technologies and/or other economic sectors are better suited to solve the GHG problem more efficiently, especially when public health near port cities is currently at risk.

The most important public issue in port cities is premature death and other health-related problems due to particulate matter (PM) from oceangoing vessels. Unfortunately, shore power misses half of the PM emissions. Thus, while reducing only 1% of the GHG emissions, a significant public hazard remains.

The electrical grid eventually may produce greener electrical power as natural gas and renewable sources come on line. However, since the electrons for shore power in California typically comes from out of state, the line loss of long power lines wastes energy. Furthermore, inefficiencies of step up / step down transformers waste energy. Furthermore, many vessels are foreign-built and run on different frequencies than U.S. 60 Hertz and require frequency transformation, which adds further inefficiencies, Thus, a fraction of the supplied electricity is wasted. This waste reduces the difference in a vessel’s GHG emissions compared to the grid’s GHG emissions. Therefore, the global warming problem is not best solved with vessel shore power when significant immediate health issues remain that are associated with the missed vessel PM emissions.

The grid will not be 100% renewable in the foreseeable future. Electrons for shore power will therefore come from out of state (coal?) or from peaking plants that run on natural gas elsewhere in California. Eventually, the best we can hope for eventually is power from combined-cycle natural gas generation, which is produces about 1/3 less GHG, which is significant, but not good enough. Thus, shore power is not an efficient means to reduce GHG compared to other technologies or other economic sectors that can make huge sweeping reductions in GHG emissions.

Recently, the global warming science is focused on something more potent than greenhouse gas (GHG). Both vessel auxiliary engines and boilers emit black carbon in the form of particulate matter (PM). Black carbon has been classified as a “super pollutant”, which is a short-lived climate pollutant (SLCP). Each ton of black carbon is equivalent to 3,200 tons of CO2 in terms of its global warming effects. On September 19, 2016, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. signed SB 1383, which establishes the nation's toughest restrictions on super pollutants including black carbon, designed to help cut the projected rate of global warming in half by 2050. To meet the requirements of SB 1383, OGV boilers should be controlled as well. However, vessel boilers continue to run when shore power is used.

Technology now exists that can remove more CO2 from the vessel’s exhaust gas. This technology promises to be much more effective at reducing CO2 from hoteling vessels than shore power.

A Better Solution: STAXwing™

Shore power has been in development for over 50 years. However, shore power is still limited in its effectiveness in reducing pollution. Half of the emissions produced by oceangoing vessels are missed by shore power. Transferring vessel pollution to other communities through power lines is not the solution either.

On the surface, shore power would seem to benefit global warming by connecting vessels to the grid. However, shore power barely makes a dent in global warming while thousands of people die prematurely due to particulate matter (PM) emissions near port cities. The following technology is significantly better at reducing global warming.

STAXwing™ is a next-generation technology that remotely attaches to vessel exhaust pipes to capture and purify nearly 100% of emissions at berth and at anchorage, and is significantly better at reducing global warming than shore power. STAXwing™ does not interfere with vessel operations and does not require the vessels to be retrofitted.

For more information, contact:

Bob Sharp