CopP26 cruise ship to run on fossil fuels despite ability to use clean onshore energy

CopP26 cruise ship to run on fossil fuels despite ability to use clean onshore energy
Ports hosting the ships do not have onshore power capabilities suitable for medium or large vessels

A cruise ship hosting over 3,000 Cop26 attendees and workers in Glasgow will have to run on fossil fuels, despite being equipped to use clean onshore energy.

The MS Silja Europa is one of two vessels to have been procured by the government amid a lack of accommodation in Glasgow ahead of Cop26. Over 25,000 people are expected to attend the climate summit.

Shore power systems allow vessels to receive electricity from land while docked, enabling them to switch off their auxiliary engines.

However, the port hosting the ship, like most UK ports, does not have onshore power capabilities suitable for medium or large vessels.

If powered by green energy, onshore power enables significant emission savings of carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen oxide (NOx), and particulate matter (PM10).

The revelation comes as the UK welcomes delegates to the Cop26 climate summit, where the government will, amongst other things, try to convince nations to reduce their maritime emissions.

The ships’ owner, Tallink Grupp, predicts that each of its ships reduces its CO2 emissions by 100 tons per month when they are able to switch to shore power while in port. The Estonian-based company has spent over €4.2million since 2017 equipping five of its vessels with shore power systems.

The vessels can use shore power on a daily basis when operating in the Baltics due to the strong support and quick adoption of the technology in the Baltic Sea by government and port authorities.

Concerns have risen in recent years over the level of pollution in ports caused by ships running on auxiliary engine power. In the UK, emissions at berth accounted for approximately 16 per cent of ships’ carbon emissions, 13 per cent of NOx, and 11 per cent of PM10 in 2018. In 2016, energy firm Schneider Electric estimated that 1.3 per cent of the UK’s entire nitrogen oxide emissions came from berthed ships.

Toxic fumes from ships have been linked to thousands of UK deaths. In 2019, the International Council on Clean Transportation showed Britain ranked fourth for the total number of people dying prematurely due to shipping fumes.

Dr Matt Loxham, an air pollution toxicologist at the University of Southampton, said that “research has shown that particle matter emissions (PM) from ships contribute to air pollution in ports and surrounding areas.”

He added that: “Shore-side power technology, which allows berthed ships to satisfy their power requirements using electricity generated from clean sources, rather than running their diesel- or fuel oil-powered auxiliary engines, has the potential to mitigate adverse impacts on air quality”.

Schneider Electric estimates that if every port in the UK was to use clean onshore power, there could be up to £402 million saved in avoided health and environmental impacts.

In part due to a lack of funding, shore power systems capable of providing electricity for medium and large sized ships are rare in the UK.

In 2019, Orkney Council unveiled a project to supply locally produced clean electrical power to the MV Hamnavoe NorthLink ferry while docked in Stromness. It is believed to be the first large commercial ship shore connection in the UK.

Portsmouth City Council’s cabinet also recently approved a strategy for shore power provision at Portsmouth International Port, which will allow visiting ships to switch their engines off whilst berthed.

However, in a report from 2020, the BPA insists that: “As things stand, ports face an uphill struggle when considering shore power and prohibitive and punitive charges and investments to make it happen”. They further underlined that shore power “is not currently feasible without government support”, calling for the establishment of a green maritime fund.

In its 2021 Transport Decarbonisation plan, the government acknowledged that: “shore power has a role to play in immediately reducing emissions from vessels visiting ports and is an option that is likely to be [of] ‘low/no regrets’”. The government acknowledged that there were significant existing barriers for ports wishing to deploy shore power systems, in particular, the cost of infrastructure.

The government has committed to consulting over winter on how it “can support the wider deployment of shore power, including consideration of regulatory interventions, for both vessels and ports that could drive deployment” of the technology.