Lighting up ports' sustainability goals

An oft-overlooked aspect when it comes to sustainability, a port’s lighting solutions could have more of an environmental impact than many realise. Mark Nailer, EMEA maritime manager, Midstream Lighting, explains the benefits of switching to more efficient and less polluting lighting solutions.

For the shipping industry to truly decarbonise, it needs to look beyond the operations of ships out at sea. After all, the world’s ports and terminals bear over half of all maritime emissions expelled by docked vessels. 

This research is further supported by the Journal of Marine Science, which found that in 2019, 60%-90% of vessels’ total emissions occur while ships are berthing in ports. Added to this, effective port operations require huge quantities of power to operate at the rate required to meet global trade demands. 

This is especially pressing with new environmental regulations factoring port and terminal emissions into decarbonisation targets. The EU Green Deal is specifically targeting a 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions for EU port cities, while the World Port Climate Action Program has agreed on an action agenda focused on enhancing energy efficiency. It is undeniable that the emissions’ output of ports and terminals is being recognised both inside and outside the industry. 

As the sustainable operations of ports and terminals come under the microscope, impending environmental regulations and a new initiative by the International Association of Ports and Harbors Risk and Resilience Technical Committee to establish baseline requirements for a port tracker – which will track operational efficiency alongside progress on energy transition – will require a new level of accountability, as well as action. 

While hubs like the Port of Valencia and Port of Vancouver are repeatedly featured in the maritime media and beyond for their environmental initiatives, overall, there is still huge progress to be made.

In addition to pressing regulation, it will also inevitably make sense for the major port groups to improve their environmental performance in light of likely growing ESG pressures from their financiers and investors, as well as positioning themselves as preferred operations for charterers.

Rough seas ahead

The challenges for owners and operators to meet calls for more sustainable ports and terminals effectively are significant.

Firstly, financing the renewal of port infrastructure, with solutions that are synonymous with the industry’s vision of the ‘terminal of the future’, such as total electrification, come with significant price tags.

Investing considerable sums into upgrades with a long-term payback can be unattractive for some operators when there are more pressing investments needed. 

Exacerbating this challenge is the current split incentive between port authorities and owners. The conflict between who is responsible for investing in infrastructure upgrades – and who reaps the final rewards in terms of the assets’ long-term ownership and potential cost savings – is a major sticking point. 

However, as recognised in other facets of the shipping industry, staying at a stalemate is no longer an option.

The conflict between who is responsible for investing in infrastructure upgrades is a major sticking point.

Fortunately, there are easily implementable and available technologies that can deliver immediate energy efficiency and cost savings, without huge infrastructural redevelopment or million-dollar payouts.

In fact, the United Nations defined investing in energy-efficient port equipment, such as lighting or port handling equipment, as one way to meet its Sustainable Development Goal 7. Re-evaluating existing infrastructure can therefore be a good place to start implementing a realistic decarbonisation strategy, with small, incremental changes at the heart of progression.

Illuminating the pathway towards decarbonisation  

What does all of this have to do with lighting? Despite accounting for a large portion of a port or terminals energy consumption, lighting is an often-overlooked element.

Considering outdated lighting solutions have been recognised as culpable for nearly 5% of global CO2 emissions, with a proportion of these existing within logistics operations, such as within ports and terminals, the narrative on lighting must change.

One of the main reasons port and terminal lighting causes such high CO2 emissions is due to the choice of solution currently used.

The majority of owners and operators continue to use economically and environmentally adverse lighting solutions, such as high-pressure sodium, metal halide, or other similarly dated technologies. This is despite more sustainable and cost-effective lighting solutions being available on the market, such as LED lighting. 

For example, a metal halide lamp may deliver a high lumen output in the short term. However, it will typically lose around 20% of its lumen output in the first six months, while still consuming 100% of the energy. Similarly, high-pressure sodium lighting provides poor colour rendering for CCTV systems, as well as potentially producing harmful levels of ultraviolet radiation, which can negatively impact workers.

Outdated lighting solutions have been recognised as culpable for nearly 5% of global CO2 emissions.

In comparison, LED lighting reduces energy consumption by over 70%, minimises light pollution and, due to its durability, reduces waste. The solution is sustainability superior in relation to cost, lifespan, visibility, and energy efficiency, with LED bulbs lasting up to 20 times longer than standard forms of lighting such as incandescent bulbs or halogen bulbs.

While it goes without saying that lack of industry standardisation and current misalignment between port authorities and operators presents a challenging environment, new environmental initiatives and a drive towards decarbonisation make energy efficiency a non-negotiable for owners and operators. 

Be it handling equipment or LED lighting, the opportunity to take realistic incremental steps towards carbon reduction is available to all, no matter what the size or location of the port or terminal. These changes will not only provide immediate energy efficiency improvements but could also generate cost savings that cumulatively will help to pave the way for future, more ambitious initiatives by demonstrating their ease of integration and ROI.