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Clean Ports Program set to ‘amp up’ shore power in US

Container ships used alternative maritime power during 788 vessel calls in 2023 at the Port of Los Angeles

Posted on April 15, 2024

Billions of dollars in funding is being made available through the US EPA’s Clean Ports Program to upgrade US port infrastructure for sustainability goals, pollution-mitigation and efficiency initiatives.

This funding is backing investments in everything from zero-emission terminal tractors to zero-emission harbour craft to zero-emission infrastructure such as shore power, electric charging and even hydrogen fuelling. The idea is to clean up the last mile of cargo transport, mitigating CO2 and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from ships and cargo loading, offloading, handling and land transport operations at US ports.

Funding for the Clean Ports Program comes from the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 and will go towards grants for zero-emission port equipment and infrastructure at US ports. The funding is now being made available for grants to port authorities, states, regional, local and tribal authorities, air pollution agencies, and any private entities that have partnered with them.

The EPA has issued two notices of funding opportunities (NOFOs) under its Clean Ports Program to solicit proposals, with US$2.8Bn in funding made available for Zero-Emission Technology Deployment projects and US$150M in funding for Climate and Air Quality Planning projects. Applications for proposals must be submitted by 28 May 2024 to be eligible, with winning selections announced by EPA in September 2024, and grants awarded by December 2024.

Shore power

Proposals for shore-power connections should figure strongly among the projects submitted for funding by the EPA. The agency views it as one of the most effective technologies at reducing ship pollutants while a ship is in port. Most ships when they dock use their diesel generator engines to power auxiliary systems such as lighting, air conditioning, refrigeration, and crew accommodations. These massive auxiliary engines emit substantial amounts of harmful pollutants in the ship’s emissions including NOx, particulate matter and CO2 while the vessel is berthed, impacting local populations and increasing respiratory health risks. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) estimates a 55% decrease in cancer risk by 2031 due to air quality improvements by using shore power instead of auxiliary engines at berth, providing health benefits of US$2.32Bn at a cost of US$2.23Bn.

But increasingly more ships are built or fitted with shore-power connection systems to allow them to turn off their diesel engines and plug into the local electricity grid to power auxiliary systems while at berth. About 2,560 ships are operating and another 625 are on order with high-voltage shore-power connection systems as of March, according to Clarksons World Fleet Monitor.

High-voltage shore-power systems, used by cruise ships, container vessels and tankers, are available now at 10 US ports, with others on the way. In 2001, Juneau became the first port in the US to offer shore power for a cruise ship, and in June 2004, the Port of Los Angeles opened the first container terminal in the world to use this zero-emission technology for container ships.

MSC Cruises’ new cruise terminal will be the largest in the world

Called Alternative Maritime Power (AMP) at the Port of Los Angeles, high-voltage shore power is now used extensively by container ships at the port. Under CARB rules, container ships, cruise ships and reefer vessels calling at the port must use shore power or equivalent CARB-approved emission control technology for a certain percentage of their fleet calls; 15 container lines made 788 ‘AMP’ed calls’ and another 48 ‘AMP’ed equivalent calls’ in 2023. This equates to 95% of the calls made by the container ships at the port. CARB shore-power rules will be expanded to include car carriers and tankers starting 2025.

“The EPA views shore power as one of the most effective technologies at reducing ship pollutants while a ship is in port”

With a goal of reaching net-zero carbon by 2045, California is aggressively investing in zero-emissions technology at its ports. Under California’s US$1.18Bn Port and Freight Infrastructure Program, the existing shore-power system at the Tesoro Logistics terminal at the Port of Long Beach will upgraded to accommodate more tankers, and new shore-power systems will be installed at the Tesoro LBT and T2 terminals.

The ports of Oakland and San Diego are upgrading their shore-power system capabilities, too. The Port of San Diego, which commissioned its first system at its cruise terminals in 2010, has invested about US$24.7M in shore power to date. Last year, its board of commissioners signed a US$676,273 equipment purchase and consulting service agreement with Watts Marine for its third shore-power connection.


Shore power for PortMiami 

Starting this year, five major cruise lines will be able to plug in their cruise ships at PortMiami following commissioning of new facilities starting this spring. Shore power will be available at MSC’s new mega-cruise terminal, the largest of its type in the world, when it opens this fall.

An agreement signed in February 2021 between PortMiami, cruise companies Carnival Corp, MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean Group, and Virgin Voyages, and local utility Florida Power and Light Co (FPL) made it possible.

The deal, worked out under a memorandum of understanding in February 2021, addresses some of the most significant barriers to shore power, namely the cost of outfitting of ships, which was covered by the cruise lines, which will also pay to use the electricity, and a commitment by FPL to make the capital investment needed to build the infrastructure to bring electricity to the facility. FPL expects to generate US$25M in revenues from shore power over four years. State and federal grants totalling almost US$22M were received by PortMiami to support its shore-power project.

In 2023, the Port of Galveston received a US$1M grant from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for a shore-power pilot project that will use “an onshore electricity microgrid to provide a clean portable power source” to one docked ship.

The port will team with Texas A&M University to evaluate the microgrid’s feasibility, environmental impacts and operational data including energy consumption and power production efficiency. The pilot is expected to be implemented in 2024 and completed in 2025.

Key barriers to shore power

Among the chief barriers to shore power at US ports, according to US EPA, are:

1.                   Significant investments in landside infrastructure and vessel modifications.

2.                   Lack of appropriate infrastructure at ports to connect ships with shore power.

3.                   Upgraded connections to the electrical grid are often required.

4.                   Ships must be retrofitted with costly shore-power connection systems.

5.                   Electricity for shore power must be less expensive than shipboard fuel sources.


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