The Alternative Power Dock

22 December 2009 (Last Updated December 22nd, 2009 18:30)

Alternative maritime power for docked container vessels has made steady progress throughout the decade. But isn't it time more ports and shipping lines adopted the technology? asks Alex Hawkes.

The Alternative Power Dock

As the climate talks in Copenhagen draw to a close and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) comes under increasing pressure to address the shipping industry's carbon emissions, alternative maritime power (AMP) is looking an increasingly obvious solution.

In fact, it is surprising to find that the technology, which has been developed and pioneered by the Port of Los Angeles, has not already been more readily adopted throughout the decade.

AMP technology works on the basic principle that AMP-equipped ships are able to plug in to shoreside electrical power as opposed to running on diesel power while at berth.

The concept had previously been used for naval vessels, Baltic ferries and cruise ships operating in Alaska.

But on 21 June 2004, the Port of Los Angeles and China Shipping Container Line, which leases a high-volume container terminal at the port, introduced the world's first container terminal to use AMP.

Case study: NYK

One of the first shipping lines to take advantage of the landmark development was Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha (NYK). In April 2007, the Japan-based shipping company, one of the largest in the world, announced that it would deploy AMP on 38 ships of its container vessel fleet over the next two years at the cost of $22m.

As well as placing an order for 20 new ships to be delivered with AMP capability, NYK also set about retrofitting 17 ships already in service with AMP technology during their regularly scheduled inspections.

"The Port of Los Angeles and China Shipping Container Line introduced the world's first container terminal to use AMP."

By November of 2007, NYK and the Port of Los Angeles had achieved the first successful implementation of a direct shoreside electric power connection to a container vessel at berth. The 6.6KV AMP NYK Atlas arrived at NYK's Los Angeles-based Yusen Terminals and was able to connect to shoreside power a few hours after docking and remain so until its departure three days later.

NYK has not looked back since October 2009, when it had equipped a further 27 vessels with AMP technology, including seven retrofits. Such enthusiasm towards the scheme is in part spurred by NYK's environmental policy, which saw the company receive a best company award at this year's Earth Environment Awards.

Yuji Otsuka, a representative from NYK's Container Trade Management Group, is quick to point out how beneficial AMP technology has been to the company's environmental campaign.

"NYK decided to equip our container tonnage to receive power from shore because the environment is our top priority," Otsuka says. "AMP technology allows a vessel to shut down the onboard diesel power generators while at berth and connect directly to more environmentally friendly shoreside electrical power. Utilising shore power while at dockside significantly reduces and almost eliminates the vessel's emission of gases which contain pollutants such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, sulphur oxide and particulate matter."

Supporting the cause

For a port to support an AMP system, a shoreside power source and a conversion process to transform the shoreside power voltage to match the vessel's power systems is required. In the case of the Port of Los Angeles, the city’s Department of Water and Power manages the electrical system and supplies the power.

"NYK Atlas arrived at Yusen Terminals and was able to connect to shoreside power a few hours after docking and remain so until its departure three days later."

Depending on the size of the ship, some estimates believe that the AMP technology there can reduce nitrogen oxide by one tonne and reduce sulphur oxide by half a tonne for each day a vessel is at berth and plugged in.

However, extensive work is required from shipping lines in order to reap the benefits of AMP technology, particularly in terms of retrofitting existing ships with the system.

"We needed to install additional equipment such as an AMP switchboard, connector and cables on each vessel," Otsuka says. "AMP installation work cannot be completed by ships crews alone. It requires the cooperation of AMP equipment manufacturer, the power switchboard manufacturer and the shipyard. Before the AMP installation work begins for all vessels, we have many technical meetings with all parties."

Yet, despite NYK's efforts to introduce AMP technology on new and existing ships, the first and only port to support AMP technology on container vessels remains Los Angeles. Surely this undermines NYK's focus on the technology and the progress of the concept?

"We believe NYK is not in a position to answer to this question," says Otsuka. "At the moment, it is only Los Angeles that offers AMP compatibility, but there are various other ways to tackle environmental issues and each region has their own policy. Shipping companies just need to adjust to each different one."