There are currently trials underway for a system whereby passenger ships can turn off their onboard fuel-consuming engines and connect to Malta’s electrical grid to get their supply of electrical power when they drop anchor in the Grand Harbour – a process known as shore-to-ship power. This technology aims to reduce air pollution and noise emissions from ships while docked.
Why is shore-to-ship happening and what will it change?
Parliamentary Secretary for European Funds Chris Bonett describes the shore-to-ship project as one of the most significant initiatives funded by European resources.
At its core, the project addresses a critical issue: when ships enter our ports, they traditionally rely on their own, less eco-friendly fuel, even while docked. This not only contributes to environmental concerns but also imposes higher costs on them.
Despite these drawbacks, maritime tourism remains vital for our country. Therefore, the Government has made use of EU funds and is investing heavily in a shore-to-ship power supply system. By establishing a connection from the ship to the mainland, and starting to rely on land-based grid electricity rather than fuel, the vessels can operate using cleaner energy, reducing emissions, and fostering a more sustainable maritime sector.
A literal breath of fresh air
This green investment is expected to improve the air around the Grand Harbour. It’s expected to cut air pollution from passenger ships by over 90%, making the air cleaner for the whole country, especially the around 17,000 families living nearby.
A study from 2015 found that, when a passenger ship stays in port for eight hours, it releases as much nitrogen oxide as 300,000 cars driving from Ċirkewwa to Marsaxlokk. It also spews out 30 kilograms of fine dust into the air, which is like what 180,000 vehicles would produce driving across Malta.
Apart from a marked difference in air emissions, the transition to shore-based power significantly diminishes noise pollution in the port area.
Parliamentary Secretary Bonett explains that the project’s scope extends to the Freeport area in Marsaxlokk Harbour, where it is expected to make an even bigger difference in the future.
Does Malta have enough power supply for this?
To put it simply: this will increase the demand on our electricity supply. Whilst the current capacity is of one or two ships making use of this technology, the aim is to be able to supply seven with electricity at the same time. The Parliamentary Secretary explains that, to keep just one large cruise ship running, you need as much power as a whole locality like Cospicua would use.
To meet the increased demand for power, European funds play a pivotal role. First, it’s important to understand that the project is funded through three European sources: there’s direct funding from the European Commission via the Connecting Europe Facility, there’s the European Regional Development Fund, and there’s the newly established Just Transition Fund, whose funds Malta is exclusively dedicating to shore-to-ship.
Now, to address the issue of energy supply: the upgrading of our current electrical system is being aided by the Repower EU initiative, that is aligned with the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Plan. Originally, €30 million were allocated to Malta, but the Maltese Government managed to negotiate it upwards to the tune of €70 million.
Malta is also tapping into the European Regional Development Fund’s Social Fund to build the second interconnector between Malta and Sicily. These funds and these projects are all intended to enhance Malta’s electricity distribution, and the Parliamentary Secretary is hopeful that there will be further similar projects soon, such as exploring wind energy generation in its exclusive economic zone.
What about the ships?
Anticipating future maritime standards, there’s an evolving trend in Europe toward making all ships capable of using shore-based electricity. He tells us that visiting the project site revealed ongoing efforts by major companies to retrofit ships for this purpose.
Parliamentary Secretary Bonett anticipates that direct European Union funds will likely continue supporting interventions to upgrade ships for compatibility with shore-based power. This aligns with a broader push towards a digital economy, emphasising technologies such as artificial intelligence.
Shore-to-ship technology is not just about fixing immediate issues. It’s a step toward a cleaner and more efficient way of running things in the long term. This technology is a clear sign that we’re moving ahead, using smart ideas to take better care of our environment and communities.
Photos: Infrastructure Malta