© Kees Torn

The energy transition is in full swing. Huge efforts are underway to reduce the emissions of CO2 and other pollutants. Some sectors are succeeding better and better, but it remains difficult for the shipping industry. That is why the port of Rotterdam, the largest port in Europe, is working hard on possible solutions. For example, Heerema Marine Contractors, the Port Authority of Rotterdam and Eneco are planning a shore-based power installation in the Rotterdam Calandkanaal this year. Ships will dock and connect to a gigantic plug, providing power from the quay so that the engines can be switched off. This will not only reduce CO2, but also noise, particulates, and nitrogen and sulphur oxides.

Heerema’s ships emit around 15,000 tons of CO2 a year at their permanent berth in Rotterdam. That’s the equivalent of nearly five thousand cars. Alternative ways of sailing cleaner, such as electricity, hydrogen or biofuel, are also under development. CO2 emissions will also be reduced if a ship is supplied with shore-side electricity in the port.

Energy directly from windmills

The berth for the ships of Heerema is in the Calandkanaal in Rotterdam. The company specializes in the design, construction, installation and transport of offshore facilities for the oil and gas industry. Eneco currently has ten wind turbines along the Calandkanaal. “We are going to link the ships directly to the windmills,” says Vincent Doedée, “Mr. Sustainability” at Heerema Marine Contractors. This will enable the crew in the port to use sustainable energy for lighting, ventilation and cooling on board, for example. “The use of shore power is not new, but this combination is unique,” he says.

To generate as much power as possible, Eneco plans to replace the ten windmills currently being used with nine more powerful turbines. “These generate twice as much power,” says Stefan van Doorn, project developer at Eneco. “The power generated by the windmills goes directly to the ships. In addition, the windmills also have a connection to the grid. The power from the windmills that the ships don’t use goes to the grid. If the wind is not strong enough, the ships can also access this power as back-up,” says Van Doorn.

Reduced noise pollution

A shore-side electricity installation is not only good for the environment, it’s also beneficial for local residents. “The usual generators on board are very large and make a lot of noise,” says Doedée. “They remain below the standard of 55 decibels, but the low-frequency noise is sometimes very high. It’s an engine that runs far in the background which can be experienced as a nuisance by some local residents.” In contrast, according to Van Doorn, the shore power installation is not silent, “but produces much less noise than an engine. Plus, the sound doesn’t carry as far as conventional engines.”

Shore power as a service

Shore power has several advantages for companies, crew, local residents, the environment and therefore for the port as a whole. Doedée: “I started this project about two years ago together with my colleague Erik van Hintum, a former captain. It soon became clear that the project not only offered opportunities for Heerema itself, but that it had a lot of potential to grow. After all, Heerema’s ships are not always moored in the harbor, so other ships would also be able to make use of the installation.”

Making quayside electricity accessible to a larger part of the port is also important to the Port Authority of Rotterdam and the municipality of Rotterdam. “It’s about quayside electricity as a service,” says Jarl Schoemaker, Senior Advisor of Environmental Management at the Port Authority. “If a company builds its own quayside electricity installation and then only uses it itself, it is often not profitable enough. But offering shore-side electricity in a commercial way such that other ships can also use the installation is financially interesting in the long term. It also inspires others to start using sustainable energy.”

Joint company formed

To be able to offer shore-side electricity as a service, Eneco and the Port Authority of Rotterdam set up a joint company. Shore Power BV will not only supply Heerema with shore-side electricity, it will also function as a shore-side electricity hub. For the start-up phase, the municipality of Rotterdam intends to provide a subsidy of approximately €2 million. “Once the company has sufficient customers and turnover, it will repay the subsidy,” says Ryan Cornelisse, energy transition consultant for Rotterdam. “If that doesn’t work out, it’ll just remain a subsidy.”

This form of subsidy is a good match for the city. “The municipality’s coalition agreement puts a lot of effort into energy transition. That’s why some €150 million has been made available for projects in this sector for the past four years,” says Cornelisse. Ninety percent of the city’s CO2 emissions come from the port, “so it makes sense for us to invest some of this money there.” In addition, he adds, it contributes to strengthening Rotterdam’s position as the maritime capital of Europe.

Both the city and the Port Authority have a facilitating role in the cooperation behind Rotterdam’s shore-based power. “For example, we help to set up cooperation models, apply for permits and set up a business case by finding additional customers,” explains Schoemaker of the Port Authority.

A complicated business case

However, making a business case for this type of project is not easy. “Collaboration is one thing, but transparency is another,” says Schoemaker. “Transparency is required to create a business case that is interesting for all parties, which in turn requires full optimization. This is only possible with a lot of trust. The way we achieved this with Heerema and Eneco is a good example of how things should be done with these kinds of transition issues.

In any case, the companies are fully committed to making a success of this project, both for the climate and for their wallets. “Eneco is a commercial enterprise so we naturally would like to earn our investment back,” says Van Doorn. That also applies to Heerema, although the business case is still fairly tentative, according to Doedée. “On paper, the payback period for the investment is now another fifteen years. However, if more companies make use of the installation, this time could decrease.” Eneco also sees opportunities for laying cables from the wind farm to other terminals in the port. “The turbines generate enough energy to power several ships at the same time,” says Van Doorn.

Sustainable port is coming

The joint objective of the parties is to make the best possible use of this shore-based power installation and to further develop the concept in the rest of the port. Schoemaker: “The shipping industry must move towards clean and climate-neutral fuels and energy. Shore power is part of the solution, also for seagoing vessels that will have batteries on board in the future.” According to Doedée van Heerema, sustainable fuels will drastically reduce CO2 emissions from ships. “In addition, I believe that small ships will eventually be able to sail entirely electrically, but for this to happen the production of batteries will have to become more sustainable. Right now we’re looking at batteries on board, but for other applications. We’re also investigating synthetic fuels, hydrogen and capturing CO2 on board to possibly become completely CO2 neutral in the long term.”

In any case, according to Doedée, shore-side electricity is a must to make the port more sustainable. “The new European Commission has the ambition to provide a much stronger stimulus for shore-side electricity and to tighten up existing obligations. The Dutch Green Deal for shipping, inland shipping and ports also uses shore-side electricity. One of the ways in which shore-side electricity is being promoted is by exempting it from all taxes, a significant condition because marine fuels are completely free of excise duty”, he states.

Cornelisse adds: “It is an important area in which we as local parties can do something to reduce the CO2 emissions of international shipping, something we are not always able to influence because it usually takes place internationally.” Eneco sees this in a broader context. “Eneco’s mission is sustainable energy for everyone. That means that we don’t just set up large power plants in the country, but also generate energy locally together with customers. We therefore want to use sustainably generated energy in the neighborhood. This project is an excellent example of that,” says Van Doorn.

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About the author

Author profile picture Linda Bak is always looking for the stories behind the news. She is fascinated by statistics and uses not only words but also numbers to tell these stories.