What is Shore Power and How Does it Work?


The world is developing an ever increasing eco-friendly conscience, and the cruise ship industry is not exempt. Already we’re seeing companies pioneer environmentally sustainable policies and technologies, with new innovations constantly surfacing. One of the biggest developments to emerge over the past few years is the concept of shore power.

It’s created a huge industry buzz but what exactly is shore power and why is it so eco-friendly? Read on for an overview of the concept and why we think all ports should roll it out.

shore power

The simple explanation

In the simplest terms possible, shore power is a term for the provision of shore side electrical power to berthed ships that have switched off main and auxiliary engines. It involves a complex network of cables, circuit breakers and control circuits that power on-board services throughout the ship’s port stay. The process is also known as ‘cold ironing’ while the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, California refers to it as ‘Alternative Maritime Power.’ It takes around 30 to 40 minutes to hook up ships to on-shore power supplies, at which point diesel engines can be cut.

Princess pioneers the concept

Princess Cruises is at the forefront of the shore power revolution and made history back in 2001 when it launched an innovative program in the Alaskan capital of Juneau. When its ships pull into the South Franklin Street Dock they shut down their diesel engines and “plug in” to the city’s hydroelectric power source. When the city of Juneau started to worry about the cleanliness of its air it invested millions of dollars in developing a sophisticated power distribution system designed to keep the port area clean and green. Now, the revolutionary concept is used across the globe, with participating cities including Seattle, Vancouver, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Halifax, with plans to power New York also on the horizon.

Princess vessels are able to tap into the port power using a purpose built electrical connection cabinet that automatically hooks the ship’s internal electrical network up with the local on-shore power supply. An on-shore transformer then transfers power to vessels via a series of 3 ½-inch diameter flexible electrical cables. The supply generates around 100,000 kilowatts per day, with estimated costs of $4000 to $5,000 per day on surplus hydroelectric power. It’s more expensive compared to the $3500 per day of using engines powered by diesel fuel, however the environmental benefits are well worth the extra spend.

shore power cruise ship

Cleaner air for port cities

One of the major benefits of shore power is the fact that it keeps port city air clean and pollution free. Rather than have diesel fuel pumped into the air 24/7 shore power allows cruise ships to turn off their engines and tap into local power grids. This slashes the amount of fumes, toxins and other waste that is emitted into the air and ocean.

Ports roll out shore power subsidies

As mentioned above, shore power may be a more eco-friendly option but it isn’t the cheapest. In a bid to encourage cruise lines to make the switch to shore power many ports are rolling out subsidies and financial incentives. Brooklyn’s shore side power program and the joint effort from the Port of San Francisco and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission are just two examples of cities attempting to go green and encouraging visiting ships to do the same.

shore power

What lines have made the switch?

At present Princess Cruises and Holland America Line are leading the way, with almost all of their ships featuring shore power compatibility. Norwegian Cruise Line and Disney are also on-board, with the Norwegian star and Disney Wonder both featuring plug in systems. During a recent dry dock Carnival Splendour was also retrofitted with a plug in power system.

While shore power compatibility is currently optional, the industry is swaying towards mandatory systems in the future. Jay Ach, manager of regulatory and environmental affairs for the Port of San Francisco explains, “There are California regulations that will require cruise lines to phase in shore side power beginning 2014, so the port expects that more ships will use the system in the future.”

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Images sourced via Flickr Creative Commons. Credits: Port of San Diego

What is Shore Power and How Does it Work?
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What is Shore Power and How Does it Work?
It’s created a huge industry buzz but what exactly is shore power and why is it so eco-friendly? Read on for an overview of the concept and why we think all ports should roll it out.

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Claire has worked in the travel industry since leaving college in 1994. One of this blog's most regular contributors, Claire covers cruise news and industry trends.

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