Cruise ships: What future for onshore power supply in Europe?

Published by  30 May, 2013 10:02 am Leave your thoughts

The question of onshore power supply for ships was debated specifically at a conference organised by the Cruise Europe association at Le Havre on 24 April 2013.

The inclusion of this subject on the conference agenda shows how important it is in today’s cruise ship world, in the face of continued increases in fuel costs and environmental constraints. Also known in French as “courant de quai” and in English as “cold ironing” or “alternative marine power”, this technology seems more and more essential on quays, not only for cruise ships but also for cargo vessels.

The principle is fairly simple and seems to make sense. When the ship is alongside it does not produce power using its on-board generators but plugs into either the onshore power grid or a generator specially supplied by the port, generally powered by LNG or hydrogen. The electricity demand of a cruise ship is considerable, on average three times that of a container carrier. The issue is therefore particularly important for the cruise industry, the more so as ships berth for preference as near as possible to the historic centre of port-cities and calls are becoming ever more numerous, with several large units alongside simultaneously during the season!

The advantages seem obvious for the immediate urban environment and the cruise operators themselves: little or no air pollution, less noise, less overall pollution. However, connection to the local network is a delicate matter because of the amount of power required. There is a risk that consumption peaks may overload the network causing it to cut out! Whether an onshore generator or the local grid is used, the question of supply security must be considered. Abandoning the ship’s energy independence means that operators must have absolute faith in the onshore installations. How can the vessel anticipate power cuts, either for technical reasons or due to union action?

Although some shipping companies, such as Holland America Line, proclaim their confidence in this mode of power supply and are investing in the construction of pre-equipped vessels, particularly for operating on the American west coast, this is not yet the case in Europe. Speakers underlined the difficulties associated with differences in electricity tariffs between European countries. The technology is also already threatened by the introduction of new equipment to enable ships to operate with LNG. This type of fuel has not yet been generally accepted for cruise ships by either the public or industry professionals. There is considerable nervousness about having gas tanks under the passengers’ feet! Whatever happens, the European Commission is inclined to toughen regulations for anti-pollution rules in ports. Onshore power supply, LNG… cruise operators are going to have to adapt. One more reason for a fresh look at the power balance of these vessels. Considerable power savings can still be made, particularly in air-conditioning. It is one of the ways in which cruise ship operators can help with the global environment problem!

Olivier Lemaire
General Manager of AIVP

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