Offshore wind plays a leading role in decarbonising the energy sector, yet the vessels used to service the industry all burn fossil fuels.
But that incongruous situation could change as a more and more vessels adopt new forms of propulsion. The future, Vattenfall Network Solutions business development manager Carolina Escudero told OWJ, is electrification.
“Propulsion technology is changing in response to the need to decarbonise marine transportation,” she told OWJ. “Electrification is one of the most important avenues for decarbonisation. Ports and vessel owners are beginning to respond to that, because they need to meet emissions regulations and decarbonise, and a growing number are planning to provide shore-to-ship power.
“Vattenfall believes an electric future is possible for the crew transfer vessel (CTV) sector and in the longer run other vessels, but multiple stakeholders need to be engaged to make it happen,” Ms Escudero explained.
“At the moment, not much capacity is available, and as a result, connections aren’t cheap. Ports might not want to upgrade their electrical infrastructure without support, and vessel operators can only progress hybrid and electric vessels projects if they can charge vessels in port.
“There are a lot of questions around electrification, not least who pays for new onshore infrastructure, but change is coming, and we believe that the key to advancing electrification is partnerships.
“Vattenfall Network Solutions is part of the electricity distribution business of Vattenfall and helps customers electrify processes by enabling the electrical infrastructure investments that are required. The maritime sector is a crucially important market if we are going to achieve net-zero, and we want to help ports and vessel operators to enable this change.”
There are two ways a vessel can use electrification to reduce emissions. The first is a hybrid or all-electric powertrain where conventional fossil fuel is replaced by an electricity source such as batteries; the second is using shore-to-ship power so a vessel doesn’t need to burn fuel in port.
In the offshore wind industry, electrification is already beginning to happen, thanks in part to initiatives such as the Carbon Trust Offshore Wind Accelerator (OWA) that recently awarded funding for low-emission vessels for offshore wind.
“We expect a range of solutions to appear in the near future,” Ms Escudero explained. “Offshore wind is a particularly exciting sector for vessels and propulsion at the moment. The projects funded by the OWA will all likely require a level of ship-to-shore power to enable their emission reduction ambitions.
“Electrification of powertrains on larger vessels is challenging with the technology that we have available at the moment, but we have seen an increase in all-electric powertrains combined with conventional options in readiness for a future increase in battery power density that would enable them to go completely fossil-free,” Ms Escudero explained.
“No matter the size of the vessel, I expect use of shore-to-ship power to increase and become widespread. This increase will follow as a direct result of the push from large wind developers to decarbonise their operations.
“The reason I expect this to increase is that the technology required to provide ship-to-shore power is proven. It only needs capital investment from ports.”
Asked what kind of peak power a port might need to provide to support crew transfer vessel (CTV) operations, Ms Escudero said I really depends on the vessel type, the propulsion fitted and hotel loads.
She said a CTV might need 500 kW to 1MW of peak capacity, depending on the technology used and hotel loads. That is a relatively small level of capacity compared to a large vessel such as a cruise ship that might require 10-20 MW of peak power to support hotel loads, so ports need to work with their clients to understand their operational requirements and future power needs.
Meeting the electrical needs of small vessels such as CTVs will be easier, but also depends on how many vessels a port is supporting. It also depends on their operating profiles.
“If a port is supplying ship-to-shore power to a single vessel such as a CTV that is not too challenging, but a port needs a certain level of demand and certainty to make an investment in new infrastructure,” Ms Escudero said. “With multiple vessel operators, even if they all operate smaller vessels, there are also challenges to address.
“In a single port with different vessel types and operational requirements, determining the level of electrical infrastructure required becomes more complex. A port would need to liaise with all of the operators and the local distribution network operator to get the capacity required.
“Ports will also require a level of assurance from the vessel operators before engaging in an infrastructure project that, depending on its size and complexity, could cost millions of pounds.
“Another potential challenge is that the electricity network is constrained in some parts of the UK, and in some areas new connections could be expensive. But Vattenfall Network Solutions can work with customers to make sure that their networks are future-proof in terms of capacity and technology.
“The main challenge with ensuring that the power they use is from renewables is space. For ports where wind and solar PV can be installed, a microgrid can enable the seamless integration of self-generated renewable electricity,” she explained. “For those that don’t have space, or that face planning restrictions, a power purchasing agreement enables them to buy power from a renewable source, even if the generator isn’t nearby.”
Ms Escudero agreed that, at the moment, if the business case for shore power is driven purely by economics, it will be difficult to make it stack up, but once more stringent emission regulations come into force, ports will need to transition and it won’t be a question of ‘how much’ but ‘how fast can we make it happen.’
Ms Escudero expects ports and vessel owners to work hand-in-hand to identify where there are sufficient vessels to make the business case for electrification, but believes that progress will most quickly be made if all of the stakeholders involved get together in a network to make ship-to-shore power a reality in ports.
“As electrification drives progress in decarbonisation, we will see processes and industries that we traditionally associate with fossil fuel use look to electrification tackle climate change,” she told OWJ.
“Partnerships are fundamental to this process, and we have already initiated partnerships with other industries – from cement to steel, automotive partners to digital leaders. The value to them is that they can enable transformation. All of our partnerships are built on the idea that innovation can drive progress We are already seeing that in our other partnerships.
“In the marine sector, we cooperated with Swedish system integrator Echandia Marine to enable the deployment of an all-electric ferry in the Stockholm Archipelago. Vattenfall Network Solutions is responsible for the ownership and management of the powertrain equipment – which includes the charging station, battery system and driveline – and for operation and maintenance. We also have responsibility for electrical safety and any further investments needed during the period of the contract. In the UK we are already in talks with vessel operators and ports to make electrification a reality.”
Asked in what timeframe we might see the first ports providing shore power to offshore wind ships, Ms Escudero said, “The concept of ship-to-shore power is not new. It is something a lot of the larger ports in Europe are already deploying. A 2014 directive from the European Union required member states to ensure that shore-to-ship power be installed as a priority in certain ports by 31 December 2025.
“The technology is there,” she concluded. “Now we need to form the partnerships and use the drivers that will accelerate deployment in the UK and other fast-growing markets for offshore wind energy.”