Air Quality and Shore-to-Ship Charging

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:04 pm on 29th March 2018.

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Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change) 5:04 pm, 29th March 2018

It is a sad occasion that I cannot entirely join in the good wishes of the Deputy Leader of the House for the Easter Adjournment, because I am still here, along with you, Mr Speaker, and indeed a number of hon. Friends and hon. Members who have come to hear this debate and possibly to intervene briefly. I am very appreciative of their taking the time to stay behind, and indeed, of the Minister for coming along this afternoon to hear the last Adjournment debate before we finally start our Easter recess.

The city that I represent is home to one of the UK’s largest ports. Southampton’s thriving port hosts large numbers of container vessels, roll-on/roll-off ships transporting vehicles, and many general cargo ships, along with being the main UK base for cruise ships. In just the next five days in Southampton, more than 60 large vessels are due to arrive at the port, including five cruise ships, nine large vehicle/ro-ro vessels and 10 large container ships. They are all very welcome to the port. Southampton port is not just a great asset to Southampton, but is a national trading and passenger asset in its own right.

The ships are varied in size, content and function, but they all have one thing in common: when they are in port, often for several days at a time, they keep themselves going—their heating, lighting, power and so on—by running their engines and on-board generators as if they were at sea. During that period, a cruise liner, particularly, will consume an enormous amount of fuel—estimated to be some 2,500 litres of diesel per hour—in running its generators and keeping facilities in good order for perhaps 3,000 or 4,000 passengers. If we take account of the crew members and all the other people who are on the vessel, a cruise liner in port in the middle of Southampton running its engines in this way might be likened to a small town, perhaps the size of Romsey, turning up in the middle of a city and running exclusively on diesel generators, with all the consequences that that has for nitrous oxide and particulate emissions across the area.

At the same time, Southampton is one of 18 cities in the UK facing possible infraction proceedings because of air quality issues in the city. Measures are under way in Southampton on the basis of commendable action by the city council to get a grip on air quality, including a future clean air zone for the city centre. The port of Southampton is working hard on its shoreside emissions. The port overall can be extrapolated as contributing overall perhaps some 25% of total emissions—of nitrous oxide, sulphur and particulates—but to date, it has not been able to do anything about the central fact of ships berthed in the port.

However, something can be done and indeed is being done in a number of ports across the world—that is, to plug vessels arriving in port into the port’s mains electricity system, so that a ship can switch off its engines and rely on shore power to do the job. Ports in a number of parts of the world, including the United States, the far east and some parts of Europe, have installed shore-to-ship electrical supplies—essentially a very large plug deriving electrical supply from local power that goes into an equally large socket on the ship at berth to take over the running of the ship’s power in port.

Shore-to-ship power is a very simple and relatively low-cost alternative to ships powering themselves when in ports close to densely populated areas. It also, potentially, makes money for ships at berth, since it is far cheaper for them to run on local power than to burn bunker fuel while in port. It certainly saves on emissions: a recent study in the United States showed that cruise vessels using shore power in one location saved 99% of their nitrous oxide emissions and between 60% and 70% of particulate emissions. Increasing numbers of vessels visiting ports in the UK now have the equipment on board that allows them to plug in. The problem is, though, that there are no shore facilities installed in Southampton, or indeed in any medium or large commercial port anywhere in the UK.