Cold ironing

Towards port sustainability

Cold ironing, shore connection or shore power, is a quayside power supply system that provides electrical power to the ship and allows its engines to be switched off while it is berthed.

Ships currently produce the electricity for on-board services with generator sets whose prime mover is usually a high or medium speed diesel engine, fuelled with MDO (Marine Diesel Oil) or HFO (Heavy Fuel Oil). When docked in ports, the use of on-board generators produces gaseous emissions and noise.

Cold ironing reduces the consumption of fossil fuels by ships and, consequently, the polluting emissions when they are docked that affect port towns. Providing energy from the electricity grid improves the air quality of the built-up area near the berthing terminal and reduces noise pollution caused by the ship’s engines. Despite the high installation cost, the improvement of the air quality in port towns is the driving force behind investing in this technology.

It has been common practice to connect ships to the onshore network for many years in military naval bases and marinas, but is not common practice in commercial ports. The first examples of this technology in commercial ports are fairly recent and can be found in some ports in the US and northern Europe, such as Juneau (Alaska), Los Angeles and San Francisco (California), Lubeck (Germany), Gothenburg (Sweden), Toulon (France), and Rotterdam (Netherlands).

Gemmo is a pioneer in this field and implements multi-voltage and multi-frequency installations to meet the needs of ports and ships.

The stages of the project

The following are the main stages of a cold ironing project:

  • requirements analysis: here we analyse the requirements of the ship and the port, in order to establish the most suitable sizing and technical solutions
  • design: this includes the analysis and examination of existing underground utilities and artefacts, topographic surveys, georadar analyses, determination of areas affected by the route
  • project approval: the project has to be approved by competent bodies and port authorities
  • infrastructure implementation: this stage involves implementing the installations and carrying out the works necessary for the supplying electricity to the ships
  • testing and verification: before commissioning, the cold ironing system is tested and verified to ensure that it operates properly
  • commissioning: once all the previous steps have been completed, the cold ironing system can be put into operation and electricity can be supplied to the ship when it is docked in port

The Italian context

In Italy, a National Round Table on Cold Ironing, was set up at the Technical Mission Structure of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport / Ministry of Infrastructure and Sustainable Mobility (MIT/MIMS), has to overcome the technical issues hindering the development of dock electrification.

The ‘National Cold Ironing Plan’ started in July 2021 and will end in June 2026, involving some 50 Italian ports. It is part of process to transform port activities towards sustainability and ‘Green Ports’.

In 2022, the reform envisaged in the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP) on the simplification of authorisation procedures for cold ironing installations was implemented. In fact, a single authorisation for implementation of these works is issued by the Regional authorities in compliance with the regulations governing the protection of the environment, landscape and historical-artistic heritage. The maximum time limit for completing the procedure is 120 days, or 180 days if an environmental impact assessment is required, which has to be carried with an accelerated procedure (the current time limit reduced by half).

From an economic point of view, tax relief and funding were provided to make the electrification of the docks cost effective in the medium term.

The NRRP, approved in 2022, allotted an investment of EUR 700 million for financing or co-financing the implementation of installations of ports belonging to the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T), in line with the national decarbonisation targets set in the Energy and Climate Plan (PNIEC) for energy efficiency in transport.