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Britain's ‘green ports’: why decarbonising the maritime sector starts on dry land

Dr Maria Brucoli | Port of Dover | SSE

4 min read Partner content

While electric vehicles (EV) and their infrastructure may win the lion’s share of attention when it comes to green transportation and logistics, the scale of the decarbonisation and sustainability challenges facing the UK means every step of the supply chain needs to be examined. Ferries and maritime transport - essential components of our supply and demand ecosystem - represent a crucial area of opportunity for decarbonisation.

The reason is clear. In 2020 UK domestic maritime vessels contributed around 5% of the UK’s domestic greenhouse gas emissions – more than trains and buses combined. In order to meet the UKs Net Zero targets, marine shipping and its infrastructure must transition to low carbon energy sources.

In September 2022, Green Corridor Short Straits (GCSS) - a consortium of Port of Dover, University of Kent, SSE and several others - won funding from the Department of Transport to create a zero-carbon trade route between Dover and Calais/Dunkirk. Port of Dover is the perfect candidate to lead the UK’s efforts on port decarbonisation as it forms a crucial link in Britain’s supply chain, with more than 2 million HGVs passing through the port each year.

Green Shipping Challenge

Port of Dover could prove critical to the UK’s ability to keep pace with the rapid growth of green port initiatives and opportunities around the world. For instance, COP27 saw the US and Norway launch an international partnership called the Green Shipping Challenge which aims to decarbonise the marine industry - with the US earmarking more than $700 million for the effort. Similarly, other key maritime nations, like South Korea and Sweden, are making significant strides in incentivising the domestic decarbonisation of this sector.

Back in the UK, key partners of the GCSS consortium have begun the task of identifying the energy infrastructure needs of the entire Port of Dover - no easy feat. An increase in electrification at the facility will require a thorough understanding of how the facility is powered and the potential impact any high energy requirements could have on nearby power lines and grid connections.

It is here that the opportunities of the Port of Dover become clear. When we think of ‘green ports’, we might naturally imagine swapping out vessels that run on diesel or oil with those that are electric or hydrogen-powered - but this is only the beginning of the task.

We need to view the decarbonisation of ports as a holistic action and this is where taking a ‘whole system approach’ is invaluable. Expertise in all a variety of key areas - from energy generation to EV charging and the underlying power infrastructure, through to optimisation and battery storage systems - will be an essential contribution from the various consortium partners involved.

Consider, for example, drayage - the short distance movements of freight originating or arriving at a port, from port to yard, yard to warehouse, warehouse to HGV. Drayage is a small but crucial aspect of the whole supply chain and its efficiency dictates the success of processes we now see as standard, like two-day shipping.

The granular list of opportunities for decarbonisation are practically endless

Before freight ever reaches a renewables-powered ship, we want to see that it's being processed at an energy-optimised smart warehouse, with a private wire grid, fed by local wind turbines and solar panels. That it’s then transported from warehouse to ship by electric vehicles, manned or unmanned. That it’s loaded aboard by zero-emission electric cranes. The granular list of opportunities for decarbonisation are practically endless.

SSE has recently undertaken several projects to design and install power infrastructure at new logistics sites across the UK. One of the key tasks at each of those sites, just like the Green Corridor Short Straits initiative, is to future-proof the facilities for further development.

With green marine systems still in their early stages, one of the key objectives of the GCSS consortium is to make sure that energy infrastructure put in place has the flexibility to accommodate a range of user needs over the coming decade. As we continue to decarbonise industry, business and society, this will include elements like new connections, increased capacities and a range of evolving power-generation sources.

The benefits of decarbonisation in the Port of Dover are many and diverse. Cost savings from reduced fuel consumption. Increased energy efficiency. Strengthened competitive advantage in a marketplace that increasingly demands sustainable operations. The port's sustainable transformation will also help improve regional air quality for workers, businesses and nearby communities.

The SSE team is thrilled to work alongside our consortium partners on this ambitious GCSS project, to share our expertise and whole systems approach to support decarbonisation, and to contribute to cleaner air over the cliffs of Dover. Success in this collaborative effort doesn’t just mean a greener port on The Channel, but also learnings and partnerships that can ripple throughout the supply chain, the country and across the seas.

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