Making the Move to Port Electrification

port electrification
Electrical infrastructure upgrade at Port of Los Angeles (Photo copyright Burns & McDonnell)

Published Mar 4, 2021 1:24 PM by Adam Young

For port operators and other invested decision-makers, a shift in the maritime industry is revolutionizing the way business has always been done. Port electrification serves as a long-term solution for operators in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce carbon footprints through infrastructure upgrades. Port operators will need to consider a variety of factors before making the decision to electrify, but regulations at the federal, state and municipal level may soon mandate the practice in the wake of the 2020 election.

Technology is well-developed for implementing the infrastructure needed for port electrification, with many operators already utilizing such solutions as charger and grid upgrades in daily operations. While grid, terminal and charger hardware associated with electrification has widespread usage, the understanding of user pattern data requires further research to inform the location and type of infrastructure necessary to meet power needs. This might include additional insight into when electric vehicles are charged during a typical workday, leading to a spike in demand or grid modifications that may need to be made to adjust to a fluctuating load for powering cranes or docked ships. Additionally, many port operators have hesitations over the significant lead time and capital investment it takes to implement electrification solutions.

Careful Considerations

A variety of hardware solutions can be considered for port electrification. Port authorities and terminal operators have significantly invested in and deployed shore-to-ship solutions powering docked ships from a shoreside electrical power source, also known as cold ironing, to reduce emissions from at-berth vessels. Investments are also being made in electrifying port cranes, cargo handling equipment and drayage trucks. Additionally, interest in deploying distributed generation — or a small-scale unit of zero emission power generation and energy storage connected to a larger grid — is growing, with a goal of lowering a port’s carbon footprint and improving the reliability and resiliency of port power supplies.

As cities and states across the country mandate zero emission goals, meaning greenhouse gas emissions are effectively reduced as close as possible to zero, this is often done by embracing the renewable space. For example, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have committed to a goal of zero emissions from goods movement by 2030, which is projected to cost approximately $14 billion. On the federal side, regulatory changes may come from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency based on the changed administration. Among popular forms of alternative energy, hydrogen fuel cells or battery-powered operations are gaining in traction as viable options to comply, in combination with the expansion of electrified solutions.

Making Informed Decisions

High costs associated with initial implementation of electrification solutions have meant that the maritime industry is taking a measured approach to adopting these new technologies. However, hiring an experienced team to analyze data provides port operators with information to empower decision-making. Understanding port-specific data helps determine standard processes, as well as necessary infrastructure, to make port operations more productive and reliable.

To fully utilize big data analytics, ports need input from management and decision-makers to provide access to the information vital for identifying infrastructure needed at the site. A fully integrated team can be brought in to provide services for everything from developing a capital improvement plan to designing and implementing electrification infrastructure solutions.

Adam Young is director of financial analysis and rate design at 1898 & Co., part of Burns & McDonnell. He has worked in the electric utility industry for more than 15 years and has broad experience in financial modeling, energy market analysis, project financing, utility cost-of-service analysis and retail electric rate design. 

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.