North Sea Harbours Demonstrate Smart Energy Potential

Project e-harbours has brought smart energy solutions to seven European harbours.
Published: Wed 27 May 2015

With the large number of industrial and high energy use activities taking place in harbours, these make a potentially ideal location for smart energy solutions.

To test this the e-harbours project was run from September 2010 to February 2014, with support from the EU Interreg IVB North Sea Region Programme (and has subsequently been extended). Participating were seven North Sea ports of varying sizes from five countries – Antwerp in Belgium, Amsterdam and Zaanstad in the Netherlands, Hamburg in Germany, Malmö in Sweden and Aberdeen (Scotland) and Scalloway (Shetland Islands) in UK.

Specifically, the three objectives were to increase:

  • Production and use of renewable energy

  • The use of smart energy grids

  • The use of electric transport.

Top findings of e-harbours

Each of the showcase harbours had different approaches. Some were searching for flexibility among industrial consumers, while others created awareness by practical application of a smart grid, the development of energy labelling or business case benchmarking.

Costs form a key driver

The case studies show that (local) uptake of renewable resources, combined with the exploitation of flexibility, can result in an energy cost reduction of around 15%. In some instances, this cost reduction can be realized with limited investments, resulting in profitable business cases. Local green energy can be profitable in both large and small harbours. For e-mobility applications electrical storage potentially can bring even higher rewards.

Flexibility is key

For large harbours flexibility is needed to profit from local green production. The energy audits demonstrated a large amount of flexible electric loads available at large industrial users. Their exploitation could reduce total electricity costs in the order of 5-15%.

But the potential to find flexibility and deliver smart energy varies. A lot of exploitable flexibility was expected in cold stores, for example, but in fact more flexibility was found in large industrial production facilities (such as chemical plants). A substantial and important source of future flexibility also has been found in reefers (refrigerated containers).

E-mobility is a key element

Electric cars, boats and vessels, heavy goods vehicles, cranes and reefers offer great potential as part of smart energy systems. The showcases have shown this at a small scale. The challenge is to scale up and get these pilots into the mainstream. Vehicle technology is improving but the high cost of e-mobility and battery load cycle limitations remain barriers that have to be overcome.

The business case and regulation

There are profitable business cases for smart energy, but they are not exploited yet. A lack of awareness was encountered of the economic value of flexibility and of its potential. Also, organizations are reluctant to modify their ‘core business’, even when they are aware of the potential benefits of exploiting flexibility.

Existing regulatory and fiscal regimes are also not helpful. Present tariff structures in the energy sector do not reward the exploitation of flexibility. In countries like The Netherlands, there is a trend towards higher taxes on energy tariffs at the expense of variable base pricing, reducing the difference between on peak and off peak energy. This dampens the potential to find costs savings and undermines the economic value of any flexibility within the system.

One size does not fit all

While a lot of flexibility can be found in large harbours, the small harbours in the region tell a different story. These ports, with only a handful of significant energy consumers in a limited range of industries, can provide little or no usable flexibility. However there are significant opportunities for raising energy efficiency and awareness. Many of these small harbours are situated in often remote regions, where there is great potential for renewable energy, like on the Shetlands and Orkney islands.

Regenerating harbour areas also provides opportunities. The City of Malmö puts smart energy at the heart of its efforts to regenerate the Western and Northern harbours. Embedding smart energy in regeneration and new development provides better opportunities than retrofitting, finding business cases in existing harbour operations.

e-harbours extended

In December 2014 e-harbours was extended with the three harbour cities of Hamburg, Malmö and Zaanstad. Their aim is to take their experiences from the project to the next level by building coalitions with local stakeholders to work towards practical solutions that combine renewable sources, demand management, e-mobility, storage facilities and other techniques. They believe that new and innovative partnerships between different parties can give smart energy solutions a boost, improving local energy efficiency and enlarging the share of renewables in the energy mix.

Further reading

e-harbours: The e-harbours Journey