Maritime industry debates merits of ‘cold ironing’

Maritime industry debates merits of ‘cold ironing’
The declaration aims to limit global temperature rises. Credit: shutterstock/Alexei Novikov

Opinions varied as the British Society of Maritime Industries hosted a seminar in London yesterday to discuss whether ‘cold ironing’, which means ships using shore power, is viable, clean and cost-effective.

Jeremy Rogers, sales engineer of Cavotec and Peter Selway, marketing manager of Schneider Electric both argued in favour of ‘cold ironing’, although they recognised that cost-benefit analysis must be done on a case-by-case basis.

Selway pointed out that ‘cold ironing’ reduces emissions, noise and vibrations at the port, benefiting the local community and pleasing local authorities.

Rogers added that this was not only an issue in cities, where most ports are, but at sites of natural beauty as well.

Selway said that connecting a ship to shore power takes only 15 to 20 minutes.

He continued that payback for a ship’s investment in the technology would take three years and, for a port, four years.

Rogers said that investing in ‘cold ironing’ was “future-proofing for the increasing pressure on the environment.”

Selway pointed out that a March 2014 EU directive said that shore-to-ship power should be installed as a priority, although it included the caveat: “unless costs are disproportionate to the benefits”.

As an EU directive, this is supposed to be adopted into national law by the EU’s member states, although this can take some time.

To help with the installation, the EU’s TEN-T programme specified shore-to-ship power connection as an area where funding was available to help with up to 50% of the costs of research and 20% of the costs of implementation.

Simon Zielonka, fleet director of Royal Caribbean International Cruises, was more pessimistic saying that, in the cruise industry at least, the costs of ‘cold ironing’ were too high.

The biggest container ship uses only the same amount of power as one of the smallest cruise ships, as cruise ships have to provide air conditioning to thousands of passengers whereas container ships only have a dozen crew members on board. Nevertheless, many of Zielonka’s arguments were relevant to the container industry, although he said that cold ironing makes more sense for container ships than cruise ships.

He warned that ‘cold ironing’ may simply move emissions, from the port to wherever the electricity was produced. “The perception of climate-friendliness will change but the reality may not”, he said, adding: “You can’t guarantee grid power is renewable”.

Rogers argued that a growing proportion of the UK’s electricity is coming from renewable sources but both he and Zielonka recognised that shore power is a mix of renewable and non-renewable energy.

Zielonka said that most emissions from ships are produced when they are at sea and estimated that ‘cold ironing’ may only reduce emissions by 1-3%, a small amount when measured against the cost of implementing it.

He also said that there was not an international standard for the connecting electric equipment, although this was disputed by Rogers and Selway.

Zielonka pointed out that there are safety issues involved in dealing with electricity and that significant labour costs are involved in the process of connecting it to each ship.

He estimated that it would cost Royal Caribbean US$18m to get its ships ready to ‘cold iron’.

The politics of persuading local authorities to let a ship use their power was described by various delegates, including Rogers, as difficult.

There was also agreement that retrofitting a ship with this technology is far more expensive than installing it in a new-build, Zielonka estimated that the latter was ten times cheaper.

Nick Clarke of engineering firm, Ramboll UK, asked whether if the clean fuel Liqueified Natural Gas (LNG) became widely used in the next few decades, this would negate the need for ‘cold ironing’.

Rogers replied that LNG would still produce noise and vibrations and Selway added that LNG can’t be bunkered in the port.

There was a consensus that falling fuel prices had made ‘cold ironing’ a lot more expensive, relative to burning fuel, but nobody knows whether this will last.

Zielonka said that, if ‘cold ironing’ became mandatory then his company would have to invest in it.

Masao Yamasaki of the Marine Environment Division of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) said the IMO had discussed making it mandatory in 2012 but concluded that, at that time, there were not enough ports (only 20, mostly in the USA and Scandinavia) that had the technology for it.

He added that this may have changed since and if one of the IMO’s member states proposed it, then it would be discussed.