Interview: The answer is blowin’ in the wind speaks with natural gas, electricity and heat company Eneco to find out more about its wind-powered cold ironing solution and the potential for it to be rolled out on a wider scale.

At the start of September, the Port of Rotterdam announced work had begun on an innovative new wind-powered cold ironing solution. The technology, which is being installed and operated by Netherlands-based Eneco, will allow Heerema Marine Contractors’ crane vessels to switch from diesel generators to wind power after mooring at Europe’s biggest port.

Project leader Stefan van Doorn discusses the background of the project and how wind-powered cold ironing technology could benefit a whole host of stakeholders. Eneco is a producer and supplier of natural gas, electricity and heat. How much experience does the company have in the shipping sector?

Stefan van Doorn: We started up the Dutch shore power market for inland shipping 10 years ago but we’re no longer active in this. In 2018, we were approached by Heerema Marine Contractors and the Port of Rotterdam for the shore power project that we are currently building. But we haven’t been active in the shore power field for a while. After eight years away, what was it that drew Eneco back into the shore power market?

SvD: It’s important to note that the shore power market in inland shipping is completely different compared with the shore power market for ocean-going vessels. The inland market is a very small market where things are highly standardised and where municipalities or governments can easily force the use of shore power. However, ocean-going ships come in very different sizes but also have different technical specifications. For example, the voltage and frequency onboard the ships and how you would connect them to shore power. Also, the power involved is completely different between inland and ocean-going vessels and so is their impact on the grid. It is our mission to help customers switch to sustainable energy and we see potential for that in the shore power market for ocean-going vessels. You touched on the influence that local governments have had on the inland market. To what extent are government incentives – on a local and national level – driving the expansion of shore power in the Netherlands?

SvD: They are definitely having an impact. What I see is that shore power is a business case that has multiple advantages. There is the economics, where simply burning diesel will cost you something. With shore power, depending on the case, it may even be economical without any incentives. So, in principle, it can be economical in itself. But then you see the energy transition is important for reaching the targets set by the Paris Agreement and we see that shore power definitely plays a role there.

So, it can be a way for port authorities and government municipalities to reduce emissions. Also, we are seeing in the Netherlands that noise can be an issue. The noise is produced by the auxiliary engines of the ships, so connecting to shore power will change the whole noise profile. Granted, even with shore power, the ships will produce some kind of noise, but it’s nothing compared with the auxiliary engines. The other main issue is air quality. In the Netherlands, particulate matter is one aspect of this but also nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions too. In the Netherlands there is a big push to reduce these NOx depositions from nature areas.

The other way to approach this is from a terminal point of view. People work in these areas and I would expect that terminals would like to provide a safe and healthy working environment for their employees. As a company, we have the same argument for the shipowners. Moving to shore power will remove the noise and improve the air quality for people working onboard the ship. Did you receive any financial incentives or funding from governments for the Port of Rotterdam shore power solution?

SvD: Certainly. When we started off with the project, we had no idea whether this would be economically feasible, and we soon noticed that the business case was not easy. We identified a lot of opportunities to improve the business case, one them being some sort of subsidy. We did a subsidy scan and found that with the timeline we had there was no clear subsidy scheme available for the project.

We lobbied local governments – the municipality of Rotterdam and the Province of South Holland – and we spoke to them about the case and identified the societal benefits that the project would realise and we presented the financial shortfall in the business case to them. We also explained to them that if other parties besides Heerema used the shore power system the business case would improve. We suggested that we could either start looking for other parties to improve the business case, or they could provide us with a subsidy and we went ahead with Heerema.

That’s exactly what we did, and we were happy that in the end it was the municipality of Rotterdam that provided us with a subsidy for the project. We will pay back this subsidy when other customers start using the shore power system. We hope that in the end we will not need it.

Image courtesy of Eneco Are you seeing an increase in enquiries from shipowners about shore power solutions?

SvD: Definitely. We published a news article when we made the final investment decision for the Port of Rotterdam project last year and since then we have been approached by several parties who would like us to help them with shore power. Some parties involve ships who don’t have a shore power connection yet, and that’s quite interesting.

We are also seeing shipping companies, whose vessels already have shore power connections onboard because they’re going to places like California and China where shore power is already mandatory, informing ports in the ARA region that they want to use their shore power connections here. These companies have made the investment in a shore power connection already, so it makes sense for them to use it in as many places as possible. The shore power system that you are constructing at the Port of Rotterdam will be powered by onshore wind. In this an emerging technology?

SvD: This is going to be the first shore power installation in the world that is going to be directly connected to an onshore windfarm. The windfarm does have its own grid connection because we know that there are not always going to be ships lying there when there is wind, and the windfarm would like to use the electricity produced for other customers.

We also know that if there are ships connected to the shore power system and there is no wind, we would still like to provide the ships with power. We looked at a situation to connect the shore power system to our windfarm which is nearby, and we looked at a situation where we would connect the shore power system to the grid. In this case, we found that that it would improve the business case to connect to our windfarm. But indirectly we are still connected to the grid, which is the grid connection of the windfarm itself, so if there’s no wind, we’d still be supplied from electricity from the grid connection of the windfarm. How complicated is the business case for wind-powered shore power solutions?

SvD: The combination of a local power generation and a shore power system will improve the business case because you will have a double usage of the grid connection – you could imagine that you only pay for half. But what we are also trying to do here is connect multiple terminals to one shore power system.

We know that Heerema Marine Contractors have big offshore ships and we know they like to be out in the ocean to do projects because that’s where they earn their money. Historically they are mostly in port during the winter because that’s when it’s stormy at sea. A lot of the time, there are no ships making use of the shore power system which would be a waste in theory, so we are aiming to expand the system and allow multiple terminals to use the system throughout the year. That would definitely improve the business case because it would raise the utilisation of the system. By having a smart load system, we could optimise the costs and therefore the shore power price for all parties using the system. It may mean that there are some restrictions at some point but in general we will aim for the most optimal situation. Now work has begun on the Port of Rotterdam solution is Eneco looking to roll this technology out outside of the Netherlands?

SvD: Yes, definitely. What makes this project in the Port of Rotterdam unique is that we are a company providing shore power as a service. What you see happening a lot is that the port authority or terminal itself owns the shore power system. In our case, we are an energy company that is investing in, financing, maintaining and operating the shore power solution, and we believe we have a role to play there. Before we invested in this system, we did an analysis on the scale of the potential of this and we believe that we can roll out shore power in our core countries: Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. We are also looking at the UK and France.

Rhys Berry

Rhys Berry