Located in a naturally beautiful setting on Canada’s west coast, the Port of Vancouver is Canada’s largest port and the third largest in North America. The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, as the federal agency responsible for the Port of Vancouver, works closely with port terminals and tenants to ensure efficient and reliable movement of goods and cruise passengers, integrating environmental, social and economic sustainability initiatives into all areas of operation.
The Port Authority leads, supports and develops programs and initiatives designed to manage and mitigate effects on the environment in and around the port. In line with global trends, one of these initiatives is to promote a culture of continuous improvement and energy conservation throughout the port, with a focus on operational efficiency and clean technologies.
In 2010, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority launched a collaborative long-term scenario planning process called Port 2050 and invited stakeholders to envision the future of the port together. Energy transition was consistently identified as a key driver of change that could affect port competitiveness and success. Moving cargo requires energy, and transitioning port equipment from diesel to clean, competitive, and reliable hydroelectric energy will enable both sustainable port growth and dramatic emissions reductions.
In 2013, in recognition of the importance of sustainable energy management, the port authority worked with the provincial electric utility, BC Hydro, to create an industrial energy management position and to launch the port authority’s Energy Action Initiative to advance energy conservation and strategic energy planning for port tenants. BC Hydro has a well-established track record of supporting demand-side management (conservation) through a variety of incentives programs and their involvement with the port authority’s initiative has translated to millions of dollars in utility incentives for tenants at the Port of Vancouver, resulting in gigawatt-hours of energy savings.
While there has been demonstrated success from this collaboration to-date, port-related greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase in step with growth in cargo volumes. The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority recognized that the focus needs to go beyond conservation to electrification – adding new loads while continuing reduction of energy waste. Electrification of heavy-duty, diesel powered equipment was identified as the most viable pathway for this sector to meet British Columbia and Canadian greenhouse gas reduction targets.
To support this process, in early 2019, the port authority partnered again with BC Hydro to develop a roadmap for port electrification. The roadmap assesses opportunities for electrification of port-related activities by 2030, and identifies actions needed to support this transition. Electrification opportunities included direct connections to the grid such as shore power for ships, and catenary, bus bar or cable-reel technologies, batteries electric technology, and hydrogen fuel cells, or a combination of these. This assumes that any hydrogen required is sourced from and produced by electricity from the BC hydroelectric grid.
Scenarios estimating uptake of electrification technologies were developed to understand the potential corresponding electrical demand, greenhouse gas emission reductions and costs that would be necessary to support the electrification of port terminals. BC Hydro conducted a preliminary review of these scenarios to assess whether the current system capacity could meet the estimated energy demand increase by 2025.
The findings demonstrate that at the Port of Vancouver, port authorities and terminals, utilities and government will face significant challenges when planning for broad-scale electrification.
First, distribution systems often need to be upgraded for increased capacity, and to be able to respond to variable demand profiles and peak demand spikes caused by either charging electric heavy-duty equipment between shift changes or handling the cargo volumes associated with increasingly larger vessels. Fortunately, a variety of technology solutions are emerging that will help distribution challenges, such as utility-scale energy storage systems and smart technology and charging solutions. These technologies can improve communication between utilities and electric fleet operators, helping to develop demand response programs that, for example, protect ratepayers from system overloads.
Second, existing rate policies effectively penalize the first mover. Any port tenant that plans to pursue electrification in a constrained area will incur the initial costs of upgrading the distribution system in the area. These costs could make electrification prohibitive. New rate policies will be needed to support electrification of heavy-duty equipment by allocating these costs in a different manner. Port industries are highly cost-optimized and fiercely competitive, making it difficult for any one terminal operator to assume the first mover costs if they diminish competitiveness or provide advantage for the second and third movers.
Third, the capital costs associated with conversion of diesel equipment to electric equipment, and the corresponding infrastructure improvements, are exceptional to say the least. This does not include the operational costs and challenges related to planning, implementation, and training. A solution to financial barriers is fundamental to combatting climate change. Technologies are rapidly evolving and within the next decade, diesel equipment for many port applications may become obsolete. The question of who pays for the transition to electric equipment remains highly uncertain and if not resolved, will seriously limit our collective ability to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets.
These findings demonstrate the importance of ongoing collaboration between the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, BC Hydro and industry to ensure key system constraints are addressed in order to support electrification of equipment as it becomes commercially viable.
The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority is taking an active role in facilitating the infrastructure improvements needed to support electrification of port equipment and working with utilities, government and industry stakeholders to surmount some very difficult challenges that lay ahead to catalyze this energy transition at the Port of Vancouver.
About the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority
The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority is responsible for the stewardship of the federal port lands known as the Port of Vancouver. It is financially self-sufficient and accountable to the federal minister of transport and operates pursuant to the Canada Marine Act. The Port of Vancouver is Canada’s largest, and the third largest in North America by tonnes of cargo, facilitating trade between Canada and more than 170 world economies. Located in a naturally beautiful setting on Canada’s west coast, the port authority and port terminals and tenants are responsible for the efficient and reliable movement of goods and passengers, integrating environmental, social and economic sustainability initiatives into all areas of port operations. Enabling the trade of approximately $200 billion in goods, port activities sustain 115,300 jobs, $7 billion in wages, and $11.9 billion in GDP across Canada.