Shore power championed by Port of Oakland

California’s third largest ocean cargo gateway promises to intensify efforts to curb diesel emissions by plugging more vessels into shore power.

By ·

When five ocean carrier members of the World World Shipping Council (WTC) convened in the San Francisco Bay Area recently,  their technical experts requested a visit to the Port of Oakland to evaluate the port’s unique approach to shore power.

Port of Oakland Executive Director Chris Lytle was only too happy to oblige, meeting with them for an hour before conducting tour of Oakland’s largest marine terminal for a live demonstation. 

“If there are ways to strengthen our port electrical infrastructure to promote more use of electrical power from our grid, we will do it,” said Lytle.  “We will collaborate with shipping lines and the marine terminal operators here in Oakland to build on the progress we’ve already made.”

Ports spokesman, Mike Zampa, adds that it’s regarded as “a shared responsibility.”

The Bay Area is arguably the most “environmentally aware” region in all of the United States, as demonstrated by a host of high tech shippers and manufacturers based here.

Meanwhile, California’s third largest ocean cargo gateway promises to intensify efforts to curb diesel emissions by plugging more vessels into shore power. Known as cold-ironing in industry vernacular, it’s the practice of plugging ships into landside power grids.  By using shore power, vessels can switch off their diesel engines at berth. 

The port said it spent $60 million building the infrastructure to plug in ships with financial assistance from federal, state and local partners.  Ship owners spend about $1 million per vessel for shipboard equipment that allows them to plug in at California ports.

“Our goal is to plug in every vessel,” the Executive Director said.

Lytle said shore power has helped Oakland reduce diesel emissions by 75 percent in the past decade.  The Executive Director told his audience of shipping experts that he wants to up the ante. 

“We’ve reduced truck diesel emissions by 98 percent,” Lytle said.  “So the real opportunity now is on the vessel side.”

According to port data, more than 70 percent of all ships visiting Oakland rely on shore power.  That’s in line with existing rules governing California seaports.  But state regulators indicate they may increase the requirement in the coming decade.  To prepare, Lytle said Oakland is taking inventory of roadblocks to shore power use.  The challenges can range from ill-equipped ships to not enough electrical vaults at the dock.  “We’re trying to identify why every single vessel that comes here can’t plug in,” Lytle said.

The Executive Director said Oakland is considering a number of enhancements to increase shore power use.  Among them:

Additional landside electrical vaults;
More substations to increase the power supply; and
Standardized procedures to ease the plug-in process for vessel crews.

Oakland’s shore power program began in 2012. 


About the Author

Patrick Burnson, Executive Editor
Patrick Burnson is executive editor for Logistics Management and Supply Chain Management Review magazines and web sites. Patrick is a widely-published writer and editor who has spent most of his career covering international trade, global logistics, and supply chain management. He lives and works in San Francisco, providing readers with a Pacific Rim perspective on industry trends and forecasts. You can reach him directly at [email protected]

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