News from the BPA

Blog: How much power will we need to electrify ports?

By Mark Simmonds, Director of Policy and External Affairs, British Ports Association (BPA)

You don’t set off on a journey before checking there’s a route to your destination. You don’t start cooking a special dish before checking you have the ingredients.

Planning is everything – but in the drive for decarbonisation, it’s sometimes forgotten.

Ports are enthusiastic in their commitments to decarbonisation, findings ways to reduce emissions, switch equipment from diesel to electricity and provide onshore power for vessels.

But where’s that power coming from? At the BPA, we know of at least one port that was at the point of buying a fleet of electric vehicles, only to discover at the last minute they didn’t have access to enough electricity to charge them, forcing them to revert to diesel equipment instead. That’s an extreme example; others have found out earlier in their planning process, nevertheless forcing them to change their plans.

Electrification is going to be key to so much of the decarbonisation work required in our ports, but it’s not going to be as simple as installing a few solar panels or wind turbines and thinking that will provide the answer. There are costs to consider and implications of infrastructure that need careful consideration. We need to be mindful that this will have significant impact on electricity networks and will require a comprehensive energy infrastructure strategy to adopt sustainable technologies.

In 2020, the BPA produced an in-depth study entitled “Reducing Emissions from Shipping in Ports: Examining the Barriers to Shore Power”.

In this, we emphasised that as decarbonisation is a serious and unprecedented challenge, the UK Government needs to increase its support for shore power connections as a feasible tool to meet Net Zero Carbon emissions targets. Among our recommendations, we called for further analysis and research into demand and modelled demand scenarios.

This led directly to a partnership between the BPA and National Grid, to develop a free tool that will help ports forecast the future infrastructure required to meet potential increased demand for electricity from zero emission port operations. Developed by Siemens, with support and guidance from the BPA, the National Grid Decarbonisation Tool has been created to provide ports with answers.

The user can download the tool and run it from the port’s own computers. Questions are asked about the assets the port has on site already, including berths, number and type of cranes, types and numbers of vessels calling, and the pattern of those calls, and about the amount and timing of HGV traffic to and from the port, amongst other details.

Based on standardised assumptions, and taking all the answers into account, the tool then assesses the port’s operations, and estimates what the peak electricity demand will be at five-year intervals up to 2040. Once ports have downloaded and worked through the Decarbonisation Tool, they can contact National Grid with their preliminary findings, for a more in-depth conversation.

The Decarbonisation Tool will help ports understand at least roughly what they are going to need in the future – and in all cases, it’s going to be a more than it is now.

COP26 has served to focus minds even more on the urgent need for decarbonisation. By plugging into the power grid with 100% renewable electricity and turning off auxiliary diesel engines, ships berthed in UK ports could eliminate a staggering level of emissions.

From our point of view, this exercise has been extremely valuable in working with Siemens and creating a channel for information exchange in both directions with National Grid. We hope very much it will lead to a greater understanding of the issues among ports and at Government level too.