As maritime industries urgently seek to decarbonize operations and supply chains, ports are positioned to play a pivotal role by harnessing renewable energy resources. Located at major coastal load centers with offshore access, ports possess the land, infrastructure, and grid connectivity needed to serve as renewable energy hubs for green power generation, storage, and distribution. However, proactively developing renewable energy capabilities requires extensive planning, partnerships, and capital investment.
This article will examine the drivers and benefits of spurring ports worldwide. This is to pursue offshore wind, solar, marine, and green hydrogen projects. It will analyze the infrastructure and technology requirements for ports. The purpose is to support renewable expansion both onsite and offsite. Furthermore, key challenges ports face in scaling up renewables will be explored along with real-world case studies. So, let’s get started.
The Vital Role of Ports in Global Energy Systems
As complex industrial nexus points in global supply chains, ports have historically provided vital transshipment and storage of fossil energy commodities. It includes coal, crude oil, LNG, and petroleum products. However, ambitious societal and industry decarbonization goals aligned with the Paris Climate Accords now require ports. This is to proactively evolve into renewable energy hubs.
Leading ports are investing in offshore wind, marine, solar, and green hydrogen capabilities. It helps to supply port operations, charge electric trucks and vessels, and feed into electricity grids. It also supplies fuel for tomorrow’s clean shipping fleets. Pioneer ports recognize their vital role and are seizing opportunities to drive the energy transition across communities and industries. Moreover, they are deploying both existing port infrastructure and new systems tailored for renewables. So, other ports risk losing relevance if they fail to embrace energy diversification.
Government renewable expansion plans increasingly rely on major ports transforming into linchpins or renewable energy hubs. This is for green power imports, storage, and distribution. Ultimately, pursuing diverse renewables will maximize the utilization of port resources. It will also maximize land to decarbonize port and maritime operations.
Drivers and Benefits of Renewable Energy Projects
Several compelling factors are making the development of renewable energy hubs at ports a strategic imperative:
Tackling Port Emissions
Expanding renewable power generation and storage onsite allows ports to meet carbon neutrality goals. This is by displacing carbon-intensive grid electricity usage. It also includes diesel fuel in port operations, assets, and transport. As a result, this directly mitigates substantial port emissions.
Charging Marine Vessels
Installing shoreside charging infrastructure integrated with local renewables gives visiting vessels the ability to plug into clean power. It includes offshore wind instead of running engines at berth. As a result, this prevents thousands of tons of carbon emissions annually per port making ports for renewable energy.
Developing new renewable generation and storage capacity at ports strengthens resilience. It also strengthens the flexibility of regional electricity grids that often suffer constraints. So, ports with grid connections can help balance local renewable energy supply and demand.
Onsite renewable assets allow ports to create significant new revenue streams. This is through electricity sales to users, lease fees from developers, and earnings from ancillary grid services. Furthermore, this concurrently supports local green jobs and industries.
Offering access to cost-effective renewable power gives ports a competitive edge in attracting major customers. It includes container lines, cruise ships, and freight operators with ambitious climate action goals. Moreover, these companies are seeking ports switched to green energy.
Renewable Energy Hubs: Offshore Wind Powering Port Energy Demand
Offshore wind offers immense potential to satisfy port operational energy needs as well as produce surplus power for grid export. It is one of the leading renewable energy sources for ports. So, rapidly declining costs coupled with supportive policies are driving exponential growth in European and Asian offshore wind capacity. Moreover, ports proximate to offshore zones vie to become wind energy hubs.
Port Infrastructure as Staging Grounds
Key assets needed to support the offshore wind supply chain include suitable quaysides. This is for marshaling, staging, and pre-assembly of components. It includes massive turbines, blades, foundations, and towers before installation at sea. So, this requires reinforced quays with heavy load-bearing surfaces, tall quay cranes, and ample storage areas.
Repurposing decommissioned fossil fuel infrastructure like coal terminals is one effective approach. It is adopted by leading ports in the UK, Denmark, Germany, and China. It helps to gain necessary quayside facilities and water access for staging offshore wind construction directed at ports for renewable energy.
Operations and Maintenance (O&M) Bases
Once offshore wind farms become operational, adjacent ports serve as vital land-based O&M bases. These bases are for wind farm technicians, equipment, and crew transfer vessels that service the turbines. Furthermore, ideal O&M ports have amenable infrastructure like warehousing, workshops, and easy access. This is to specialized jack-up vessels for offshore access. Moreover, clustering multiple wind farm O&M activities offers ports economies of scale.
Grid Integration Infrastructure
Subsea cables conveying offshore wind power must come ashore. Ports hence require infrastructure. It includes cable landing facilities, substations, and converter stations. It is to integrate offshore capacity into onshore grids. Pioneer ports are also building backup battery storage for system stability.
Renewable Energy Hubs: Marine Renewables – Waves, Tides and More
While less commercially advanced than offshore wind currently, innovative marine renewable technologies harnessing power from waves, tides, currents, and ocean thermal gradients offer attractive future potential as solutions evolve.
Tidal and Wave Energy
Ports are gradually investigating harnessing the immense predictable power potential from tidal flows and waves offshore. Moreover, projects are still in demonstration phases but progressing steadily. This is in the UK, France, and Australia with port-based trials underway. Moreover, new dedicated marine energy test sites at ports provide validation platforms.
Floating Solar PV
Floating solar PV panels installed on port harbors and basins avoid occupying valuable onshore land. It comes while benefitting from a cool water layer and shelter. Furthermore, these systems have been deployed at inland ports in India, Singapore, Portugal, and South Korea among others. This is primarily to provide auxiliary renewable power for port operations.
OTEC and Ocean Thermal Energy
While capacity is currently negligible, Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) leverages heat differentials between cooler deep and warmer shallow seawaters. It helps to generate power through systems located at ports. So, this intriguing technology holds long-term promise for coastal tropical regions.
Renewable Energy Hubs: Onshore Solar PV – Available and Deployable
Solar PV represents the most readily accessible and deployable option for ports seeking to tap renewable energy. This is given most ports possess significant acreage of vacant usable land showing ports for renewable energy making it one of the finest renewable energy sources for ports.
Rooftop Solar on Buildings
The simplest option is rooftop solar PV in the many warehouses, cold storage facilities, workshops, passenger terminals, and other buildings with large footprints ubiquitous within ports. This can meaningfully offset daytime operational electricity loads.
Installing elevated solar PV carport canopies over employee, truck, and equipment parking lots generates power while providing shaded spaces for electric vehicles and equipment. Moreover, ports worldwide from Durban to Lisbon have installed extensive solar parking canopies.
Unused Open Space
Vast tracts of unused, undeveloped land in most ports can be leveraged for ground-mounted solar farms at scale. This is to supply both port facilities and export power to the grid. Furthermore, California’s Port of Hueneme for instance built a 10 MW solar farm on 70 acres of vacant space.
Introduced earlier, floating solar PV on non-navigable basins, reservoirs and ponds is an innovative approach undertaken by Singapore’s PSA port and the Port of Long Beach to maximize solar potential.
Renewable Energy Hubs: Green Hydrogen – The Future of Renewable Fuels
Green hydrogen produced via electrolysis powered by offshore wind or solar promises to become a vital zero-emission fuel for tomorrow’s clean shipping industry. As hubs of renewable resources, ports are ideally positioned to also supply green hydrogen fuel.
Installing electrolyzer facilities at ports is key to producing green hydrogen from freshwater or seawater using dedicated renewable energy supplies. It includes local offshore wind power or solar PV. So, the inputs can be fully green based on local conditions.
To provide bunkering services, ports will need to develop liquefaction and storage infrastructure for hydrogen fuel. One that can service ships with fuel cells and hydrogen-based propulsion as these systems mature.
Dual Infrastructure Use
During times of excess renewable electricity production, the surplus clean power can be stored as green hydrogen for sale as transport, industrial feedstock, or grid-balancing fuel. As a result, this maximizes asset utilization.
Now that we have seen how various ports for renewable energy can be used, let us take a look at the challenges that need to be averted.
Renewable Energy Hubs: Challenges to Overcome
Ports face considerable financial, technical, and operational challenges in scaling up renewable energy capabilities or renewable energy sources for ports which must be addressed:
- High capital costs of constructing, connecting, and maintaining new renewable energy assets like offshore wind farms.
- Acquiring technical expertise in emerging technologies like marine renewables and hydrogen infrastructure which have limited industry experience.
- Potential conflicts with existing port navigation and operations from offshore renewables and shoreside sites.
- Navigating environmental regulations and community concerns on new energy technologies and fuels.
- Electricity grid capacity issues, long permitting periods, and policy uncertainties can delay projects.
- Developing viable business models and partnerships to deliver complex multi-stage renewable energy projects.
- Managing competing demands for renewable power from ships, trucks, rail, and offsite users.
Renewable Energy Hubs: Realizing the Renewable Potential
The energy transition represents both an imperative and an opportunity for ports for renewable energy. While challenges remain, pioneering ports have demonstrated early successes:
- The Port of Rotterdam unveiled plans for over 1 GW of solar capacity. The port also imports and supplies increasing amounts of green hydrogen.
- Ports on Germany’s North Sea coast are gearing up as offshore wind energy hubs eyeing a potential 26 GW of generation by 2035.
- The Port of Antwerp partnered to purchase power from new offshore wind farms to supply port operations and provide sustainable heating.
- The Port of Le Havre completed France’s first offshore wind connection supplying port needs and grid exports.
By capitalizing on natural endowments like offshore access and available land, strategically located ports can play a central role in driving the transition to renewable energy. This is across maritime transport, communities, and industries. So, unlocking the full potential requires technology integration, infrastructure investment, supportive policies, public-private collaboration, and innovative thinking.
The Net Zero Ports & Harbours Summit 2024 in Barcelona, Spain on March 14-15 will convene ports from across Europe and globally that are charting course to become renewable energy hubs of the future. Moreover, the event will highlight real-world case studies, challenges, and solutions to accelerate port renewable projects and energy diversification. So, attending the summit will provide ports with ideas and partnerships to advance their renewable energy capabilities and lead the sector’s decarbonization. Make sure you check more about the event and register right away!