Standing on a dock in North Vancouver I was blown away by the views of the Port Metro Vancouver and the gorgeous skyline of the city. But I was distracted by the traffic jam going on in the harbor – an enormous Hyundai shipping vessel sat overwhelming the view. In Colorado, transport relies heavily on rail and trucks, but in the Pacific Northwest, the ocean is the transport medium. Idling ships, freight equipment, and amenities aboard cruise ships represent a significant power drain, one that is largely met through burning bunker oil. Marveling at the size and complexity of shipping vessels and port infrastructure inspired some curiosity about the logistics of maintaining such operations.
The Metro Port Vancouver trades roughly $75 million in goods with more than 160 economies annually. That’s an impressive amount of cargo and people in motion. From tugboats and cruise terminals, to freight trucks and railways, the Vancouver harbor was lively with vessels and equipment all requiring the combustion of the fuel bunker oil, one of the dirtier varieties of fuel oil. But as it turns out, a handful of ports around the world are pursuing cleaner options.
In 2009, Port Metro Vancouver was one of three ports across the globe that initiated the installation of shore power infrastructure. New shoreline transformers, cables, and switches allow ships to draw power from BC Hydro’s grid and take advantage of what is primarily hydropower-based electricity. In the case of passenger cruise ships, the hourly demand can be as high as 14 megawatts. As a result, these ships power down their diesel generators and stop emitting pollution over the city of Vancouver.
Moving cargo and passengers on the sea is one of the most cost-effective means of transport the world uses, and enables billions of dollars in global trade. It’s also an industry that hasn’t experienced much innovation; one of the most recent developments included streamlining containerization of cargo and many shipping companies were slow to adopt these practices. Ports, however, garner significant bargaining power for driving innovation and have plenty of incentive to do so. The city of Amsterdam is addressing shipping in their smart city project with ship-to-grid technology much like the shoreline power installed in Vancouver. Amsterdam is installing nearly 200 power stations that ships can use to provide power, displacing on-board diesel generators. The goal is to use high quantities of renewable energy to power them.
Shoreline power is an expensive technology option that requires new shoreline infrastructure and ship retrofits. Princess Cruises, a partner in the Port Metro Vancouver project, estimates that it costs roughly $14 million to outfit the vessels with equipment that enables them to draw power from the grid. Other shipping companies are trying less capital-intensive strategies for reducing fuel consumption and vessel emissions. Maerk – one of the largest shipping companies in the world with revenue of $28 billion annually – began implementing reduced-speed operations for its 500 vessel fleet. The company reduced speeds from the average 25 knots to 20 knots, and has even adopted super slow speeds of 12 knots, or about 14 miles per hour. Maerk has shown that a 20% reduction in speed yields roughly a 40% decrease in fuel consumption per nautical mile.
The United States military is also pursuing the clean-up of their port infrastructure, supporting clean energy goals and an energy security agenda. As we all continue to tap the power of the ocean, look for innovative new strategies like shoreline power to spark new moments of curiosity.