Sustainable infrastructures | Spanish ports will invest 500 million before 2030 to electrify their operations

Algeciras, Barcelona and Valencia are known for tourism, but also for being three of the 10 ports that emit the most emissions in the European Union. Spain is the second country that pollutes the most of the region for its port activities with a total of 14 million tons of annual carbon emissions, according to the latest study by the Transport & Environment (T&E) organization. Among the sustainable alternatives that maritime transport has been influencing in recent years is ammonia, still in the research phase, and dock electrification, the most feasible in the medium term. The European Commission requires the implementation of the OPS (onshore power supply) system, the technology by which docked ships connect to the electrical grid to turn off their engines and reduce the carbon dioxide emitted. Although the port authorities have begun the installation of this system, experts fear it will not arrive in time due to the need to build new infrastructure that increases the power of electrical energy and adapts it to each type of ship.

The estimated investment to electrify port terminals is de 500 million euros to meet the European objective, but this amount depends on each venue. “In some cases there is a lot of power missing near the ports and that makes the investment more expensive,” explains Sara Blanco, analyst at the maritime consulting firm OCP. For example, the port of Barcelona will allocate 110 million in its Nexigen project for this task, 90 million to install the OPS system and the rest to deploy the network that includes the two substations and the medium voltage network throughout the site, while The port of Valencia will invest an initial 11 million to electrify the MSC dock. The electrical connection to the ships requires a total power of between 800 and 1,000 megawatts (Mw) while the entire state-owned port system is around 200 Mw. To do this, “the installation of a new interconnection system with a high-voltage network near the dock” is required. and “the construction of an electrical substation or looking for that infrastructure outside the port to condition adapting the power,” says Raúl Villa, doctor of naval engineering from the University of A Coruña and captain of the Merchant Navy.

From the optimistic point of view, if it is planned well and the administration does not suffer delays, it will be possible to electrify the docks before 2030, but experts show their doubts. “It seems very difficult to me to meet the objective,” says Villa. “Certain permits will be needed to build the infrastructure that is missing in the ports and where there is not enough power it will have to be sought outside through actions such as opening a pipeline through the city center,” adds Blanco. Many port authorities invest in them, such as those of Tenerife or the Balearic Islands, pioneer ports in implementing the OPS system, and others, such as Cádiz, have reached an agreement with the private sector (Endesa in the case of Cadiz) to develop the infrastructure, but Not all port areas have enough capital to seek external support.

Vessels and renewables

The European directive that requires the electrification of European ports only affects the most polluting traffic, ferries, cruise ships and container ships, those with more regular stops and that they would be able to reduce the carbon emissions of each port area by up to 60%, between half a million and a million tons of CO2. But the power is not the same for each of them. “The power required by a cruise terminal can be between three and four times higher than that required by a regular passenger line terminal,” they allege from Puertos del Estado. And the power demanded by a container dock is not very different from that required by the ferry terminal, it will depend on the size of the ships and the volume of the containers transported.

Related news

Shipping companies also have part of the responsibility in the adaptation of ships to connect to the OPS system. “The ships have a useful life of 20 years and many times we find old ships where the shipping company will not invest much to adapt the ship to the regulations,” says Blanco. Currently, a very small percentage of the Spanish fleet is capable of using this technology, according to the maritime consultancy. Cruise ships are the most prepared with 50-60% ready to connect to the ports’ electrical grid, followed by container ships, but “ferries in Spain are not very prepared,” laments the OCP analyst, a worrying fact if one takes into account the 1,014 calls of these ships in Algeciras or the 807 in Barcelona during 2022.

Another element to highlight in the decarbonization of ports is the use of renewable energy to connect to ships. “To the extent that said energy increases its renewable origin, this will also be the OPS”, they say from Puertos del Estado, although it is a very complex decision that would increase the budget. There are three possibilities: generating energy in the port, something very difficult due to the lack of surface area in the area; use the surplus of the national energy mix or seek a PPA (Power Purchase Agreement) with a producer that has photovoltaic or wind plants, always taking into account that the agreement would be governed by the Public Contracts Law. Added to these difficulties is the desire to use the renewable energy generated for other matters. “In 2050, marine diesel fuel is expected to disappear and decarbonization will be completed, with which we will also need renewable energies to create new fuels, green hydrogen and ammonia,” Villa explains.