How shipping ports are handling the switch to electric

Everything from grid to plug...
30 January 2024

Interview with 

Megan Turner, Port of Dover


The white cliffs of Dover viewed from the sea.


The Port of Dover isn’t owned by the government, it’s owned by the Dover Harbour Board and is therefore independent. So whilst 144 billion pounds of commerce come through every year, their annual turnover is less than 60 million. This means every decision about infrastructure change, particularly on a scale like this, has to be meticulously researched. So, with all of these caveats and challenges around electricity, what considerations are the Port of Dover making throughout all of this.

Megan - So the P&O Pioneer is just one of a set of two sister vessels. So her sister vessel, which is just the same vessel again, will be coming to the Dover Calais route in January, February time, and going into service shortly after that. We'll then have the two hybrids but, long term after that, all three of our operators have actually stated their plans to either hybridise or go fully electric, with one of the ferry operators looking to be fully electric by 2030. That would be five fully electric ferries on the route.

Will - The elephant in the room really is, though, the question of how you power stuff because, as terrible for the environment as fossil fuels are, they are a decentralised and very quick and easy way of powering stuff. With an electric boat, you need to power at each end or power at one end, and that surely puts a great amount of strain on the grid wherever you have to charge up, even if it's just one.

Megan - Yeah, definitely. A lot of the work that we've done collectively as a corridor so far has been looking at that electrical demand and what that's going to look like. On current technology, the vessels do have to charge at both ends just because the technology of the batteries means they can't do a whole round trip. We've done a lot of work around what that's going to look like, what is the size of that challenge. We think it's about 20 times more electricity than we currently have into the port. So, into the eastern docks, which is this very terminal, we have about four megawatts currently that comes to the port and we're looking to need possibly around 160 if all 13 vessels were to fully electrify. So that's a huge, huge step up from where we are currently. A lot of work has been focused on how we do that because, as well, it's not as simple as just taking it from the grid because the UK grid isn't fully decarbonised, so we would like to look at a fully decarbonised solution as well. So are there other options? A lot of work has been done on that and all the different options of which there are quite a few. It could be looking to the grid or renewable options, but the infrastructure required to support that, as I'm sure you can imagine, is huge and it's the same in France as well. They will need a similar amount of electricity that they don't currently have.

Will - How do you think the best way of getting this electricity to the port would be?

Megan - So we're currently looking at a few options, being the grid or some sort of private wire maybe to a renewable solution. There's lots of different options out there. We haven't made a firm decision on which route yet, mainly because they're still at the start of this work. What's going to work out best from a carbon perspective, but also from a cost perspective. We don't want the route to become so expensive that customers have to foot the bill. We need to make sure that this is done in a way that is still going to be cost effective. Things like renewable solutions rather than the grid normally have a cheaper cost throughout the life of that vessel, but are more expensive at the beginning. It's looking at all of those costs and figuring out which is going to be the best solution. We know that, either way, whichever route we go down, we've still got to get that huge amount of electricity to the door of either port and then, once you get it through the door, we've got to get it through a port. And that's the same for Calais so it's a quite significant task that we've got on our hands here and a lot of infrastructure will be required. We'll basically need an entire new grid system in the port and down to Dover.

Will - This is, as you say, a huge undertaking, and there are so many moving parts to consider. What's the timeline on this sort of thing?

Megan - I mean, 2030 is not really that far away in the grand scheme of what we're talking about here. As I mentioned, DFDS's ambition is fully electric by 2030 so that is a date that we're working to at the minute, to have at least five fully electrics plus the two hybrids we already have. I think it's fair to say that both Dover and Calais, for the P&O hybrids, would like to give it to them much sooner than 2030, and that's definitely what we're working to, what's the quickest timescale on which we can do this? But even for small upgrades, because of the distance they're going to have to come, it is still looking like it's going to creep close to 2030. It does look achievable at the minute with a lot of work going in right now, but the Dover Calais route is responsible for 8% of UK maritime emissions. So for one small route, that's quite a considerable amount of emissions. Even if we can have those five fully electrics and the two hybrids by 2030, that's going to reduce the emissions of Dover/Calais but also UK maritime emissions.

Will - I suppose we have to talk about the uncomfortable question which is funding. How is this going to be funded?

Megan - So far a lot of the work we've done on this has been feasibility studies and we've been really fortunate that they've been funded through the Department for Transport and Innovate UK through the Clean Maritime Demonstration Competition. Funding to actually install them, obviously that's not something that comes from the UK government. Interestingly, there's not a single shore power installation in the world that hasn't had government funding of some sort. So that puts in perspective that we're talking about a really big expense, especially for lots of the ports in UK trust ports, which we are, which adds another little complexity onto this from a legal perspective. Part of the reason we haven't made a decision yet is, how do we pay for this as the port? Do we have to work with our federal operators to pay for this together? Can we look for more funding opportunities? How can we fund it? It's probably one of our biggest questions at the minute. We know there's a little bit more feasibility work we need to do before we're quite ready to actually start installing things, mainly around the plug, as such, that is the best way to call it. There's lots of shore power systems that exist across the world. 30 megawatts per ferry is our best estimate at the minute. The amount into that ferry in 45 minutes is so considerable, what that plug's going to look like is part of the question we still have. How do we find a plug that all three ports can agree on and all three operators, because we can't afford to have a separate plug on each berth, for each operator, that's just too expensive. So that's a piece of work we know we need to do next, is looking at this plug, how do we find a plug that everybody can use that works for everybody that can actually do what we physically need to do because there's not many on the market right now that currently do that. We've put a bid in under CMDC 4, so the Clean Maritime Demonstration Competition, the fourth round, to see if we could start to look at designing that plug. Because once we've fixed that piece of the puzzle, we know everything we need to do then in theory, it's just a case of starting to install it.


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