Whether driven by regulation, organizational objectives, customer need, or community demand, decarbonization for port operations is not a matter of if, but when. Electrification is currently the most common path to net zero emissions, and equipment manufacturers and suppliers have risen to the occasion, bringing a wide range of cargo handling equipment solutions to the marketplace. Other good news is that grants and subsidies may help mitigate the cost of batteries, equipment, and infrastructure improvements.
Nonetheless, while manufacturers have done an excellent job of embracing and implementing marine terminal electrification, it may take more than selecting a highly efficient, electrified piece of equipment to achieve the fine balance between carbon neutrality goals and operational productivity. New electrified equipment is typically introduced into a port terminal complex with ongoing operations adapted to existing equipment and infrastructure. Selecting an optimal approach to electrify any given terminal is driven by complex internal and external factors and, most importantly, the port operation’s unique values and priorities.
Active battery management and systems are essential to optimizing the charging and driving cycle and the approach depends on the operator’s priority. If fast charging is a priority, full-fleet equipment charging is an option; however, it creates a higher peak energy demand on the grid and impacts battery health over time. If protecting the power grid is a priority, staggered charging reduces the impact, but diminishes operating time and requires vehicle swapping, increased battery inventory, and a smart exchange station. Taking it up a notch, creating local micro grids that use solar or wind power generation can reduce both peak demand and draw.
And while electrified equipment is front and center, labor is an important consideration. Because wireless charging still presents challenges, manpower is needed to drive equipment to charging stations and to connect and disconnect it from chargers, strategize equipment switching to optimize staggered charging, monitor fleet and battery status, and actively manage charging stations.
Regardless of electrification strategy, impacts to terminal operations, traffic circulation, and infrastructure are inevitable. Port owners and terminal operators have many options to consider and decisions to make to achieve an optimal match for electrifying their unique operations.
At the heart of any successful electrified port operation is reliable cargo handling equipment that can operate an entire shift. Recent innovation and advances in electrification technology have delivered offerings that include electrified terminal tractors, top picks, and rubber-tired gantry (RTG) cranes—the caveat being that none are a one-size-fits-all solution.
Broadly, electric terminal tractors, or utility tractor rigs (UTRs), are considered the workhorse for horizontal transport. However, they are subject to limitations common to battery-powered equipment, including limited range, time to recharge, impacts to grid by increasing peak power demand, and reduced battery capacity over time.
RTG crane electrification introduces a different level of complexity with busbar systems, cable reels, or battery options for powering the equipment. In addition to requiring a dedicated electrical grid, these systems may need specialized solutions for crossing terminal roadways and can make combining top pick and RTG operations in the same block difficult or impossible.
Electrifying a terminal to achieve operational objectives is a complex endeavor that demands a holistic approach and there is much to think about. Moffatt & Nichol can help support those objectives and offer broad solutions for creating highly efficient marine terminals and electrified port terminal infrastructure.
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