The electricity consumed by a large RoPax vessel, container ship or cruise liner when in port can be equivalent to that needed to power a small city. Connecting to shore power when in port eliminates the need to use auxiliary engines to generate this electricity, reducing emissions and fuel costs as well as lowering OPEX. In this article we take a closer look at five things you should know about shore power and what Wärtsilä can offer.
Picture a container vessel with an hourly electricity demand of 4,000 kWh. On a 10-hour port stay that translates into enough electricity to power 10 average four-person households for a year. With shore power infrastructure available at the port and the right equipment and systems onboard vessels, instead of burning fossil-based marine diesel oil (MDO) in its auxiliary engines to meet this demand, a vessel can simply plug into the local grid.
In many European countries today up to 50% of the electricity is generated from renewable sources like wind, hydro or solar power, making shore power a far greener option. The potential environmental impact is huge – consistent usage of shore power can reduce fuel consumption and emissions by as much as 10% depending on the vessel type and trade.
The problem in the past has been a classic chicken-and-egg situation: owners have not installed shore power onboard their vessels because ports have not been offering it. Ports on the other hand are competing on price and those that invest in the technology first need to have paying customers in order to generate a return on their investment.
Another factor that has hindered the adoption of shore power by ports is the fact that historically, electricity has been more expensive than MDO. But there are pioneers out there, such as the Port of Long Beach, which has been offering shore power connections for container vessels since 2014. Regulators around the world are taking action to secure a level playing field and most governments are now making it mandatory for ports to install shore power facilities and even co-funding projects as part of their decarbonisation efforts. There are hundreds of such projects on both US coasts, throughout Europe and at the large Asian port hubs.
As most ports and vessels meet randomly, a common standard is needed to make sure vessels can plug in wherever in the world they are sailing to. The IEC 80005-1 describes a high voltage solution for container, RoRo and cruise vessels and LNG carriers and tankers, and this standard can also be applied to pure car truck carriers, RoPax vessels such as ferries and super yachts. The IEC 80005-3 standard regulates a low voltage solution for all vessels that need up to 1 MW shore power, for example bulkers or offshore vessels. Regardless of the solution in question, it must be approved by a classification society.
To transmit the needed power with a manageable current, the voltage needs to be high enough. The IEC Standard uses 6.6kV or 11KV (for cruise) connections, which requires a medium voltage switchboard, cables, connection points, transformers and so on, that is far beyond the capabilities of your local electrician. These kinds of projects demand an experienced electrical systems integrator and strict adherence to design rules and installation best practices to ensure a safe, functional and reliable system.
Due to the fact that electricity has historically been more expensive than MDO, most investments in shore power today and in the future will be for compliance reasons. Ports are now investing in shore power facilities and it will gradually become mandatory for vessels to use them. This development will create the required level playing field between competing ports. We have seen this happening in California’s ports in recent years, and many container and cruise terminals in China are following suit by requiring ship operators to use shore power.
Because of the historically low level of adoption, there are only a handful of engineering teams in the world with real experience of designing and delivering shore power installations, particularly the medium voltage solutions required by commercial vessels. Wärtsilä is a market leader in the segment with 130 vessels sailing with one of our shore power solutions. Most of these vessels use our containerised retrofit solution, the Wärtsilä Shore Power Container (SPC) system, but we have also performed inbuild retrofits and newbuilds. Beyond the technology itself, the trick is to get everything installed and commissioned on a vessel in operation in order to avoid additional berthing or docking, which takes the vessel out of operation.
Learn more about Wärtsilä shore power solutions.