Port of Los AngelesWith growing prices of diesel fuel and increased restrictions on air emissions, California’s shipping ports are looking for electric alternatives to power their vessels -- and with that comes the need for energy management solutions to increase power reliability.

As the nation’s busiest place for incoming goods, the Port of Los Angeles handles more than 175 million metric tons of cargo each year. Combined with the Port of Long Beach, the neighboring ports receive 70 percent of United States imports from China and 40 percent of all goods entering the country.

But all of this coming and going means ships are spending significant amounts of fuel to meet demand; fuel that then creates significant levels of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution if ships are left idling at the dock.

With California’s strict air emissions regulations, ship operators needed to find an energy alternative that wouldn’t require continuously running their diesel engines. The solution? Using a practice known as alternative maritime or shore-to-ship power, ships now connect to an electric power grid upon arrival at the Port of Los Angeles, enabling their engines to shut down while crews continue to load and unload.

Alternative maritime power helps solve the air emissions problem, but it's putting a strain on the port's power supply, which wasn't designed to support that level of demand.

Electricity consumption is predicted to double, even triple, over the next decade as alternative maritime power use increases, cargo volume grows, and terminals shift from human-operated to automated and electrified cargo handling equipment.

Energizing the Future

With that kind of demand increase comes a higher chance of strained energy, and lower reliability and stability. As a landlord port overseeing 7,000 acres, 43 miles of waterfront and 24 cargo terminals, the Port of Los Angeles is committed to being a leader in energy management.

Our team is working with the Port of Los Angeles to develop an Energy Management Action Plan (EMAP) that will serve as the basis for future energy strategies at the port, and potentially other ports nationwide.

The plan calls for a high-level review of energy demand and use, current issues, areas of growth, and potential issues and opportunities for the future — like on-site energy supply options, including microgrids and fuel cells, which provide distributed energy sources that operate independently of the larger grid.

EMAP focuses on five energy pillars: energy resiliency, availability, reliability, sustainability and efficiency. It also provides a strategy for improving energy management and information at the port, including three next steps: study, reduce and secure.

A National Issue

Reliable power sources aren’t just a concern for West Coast ports. Natural disasters, like Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and infamous snow and ice storms in the Northeast, are destructive and disruptive to energy supplies at Eastern ports.

Energy management is particularly important as the shipping industry increases the size of ships and shifts shipping routes to reduce costs. Larger ships affect both cargo handling operations and energy demands when plugged into grid power.

The opening of the expanded Panama Canal in 2015-16 is anticipated to increase competition between East Coast and West Coast ports for cargo handling business. This has resulted in significant investments by ports on both coasts to modernize and expand capacities.  For example, the Port of Los Angeles is investing $3 billion in capital improvements to enhance efficiencies and prepare terminals to handle larger ships requiring more power.

With all these changes, it will be more important than ever for ports to begin energy management planning to provide secure, reliable and competitive services to their clients. It's critical that we find a way to manage and secure power supplies before we experience the next grid failure.

While port operations are unique, ports do not need to reinvent the wheel when incorporating secure, reliable and renewable energy into their operations. The Department of Defense’s SPIDERS program, which stands for Smart Power Infrastructure Demonstration for Energy Reliability and Security,  provides a model for port microgrids. As we develop port-specific models, we will share that knowledge with ports around the country, helping to protect a vital part of our economy.

The future of energy management holds exciting possibilities, both in energy-related improvements, but also paving the way for entirely new energy projects. If you’re interested in learning more about the Port of Los Angeles or other on-site energy supply options, connect with me on LinkedIn.

Matt Wartian is business development manager in Burns & McDonnell’s Southern California offices. He has more than 10 years of professional and academic experience assessing environmental resources and delivering innovative approaches to solve natural resource management issues for development, transportation and renewable energy projects. Want to learn more about working with Matt? Connect with him on LinkedIn.

A version of this post first appeared in Burns & McDonnell’s quarterly magazine, Benchmark: “Port of Call: Los Angeles.” 

Dr. Matt Wartian applies his professional and academic experience to deliver innovative approaches to solve natural resource management issues for development, transportation and renewable energy projects. He works with engineering teams to develop energy management plans for seaports that address resiliency, reliability, efficiency and sustainability goals.