Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cruise Ships Plug 'Em In

There is an old cruise director’s joke about a passenger who asked if the ship produced its own electrical power. Naturally the punch line involved a cord—a very long cord—but that power question is no longer a laughing matter. Of course ships at sea create their own electricity, but now they are able to do their part to curb air emissions by hooking up to shoreside power while in port.

Expanding its commitment to reduce air emissions and pollution, Princess Cruises will turn off its ships’ engines and instead use clean hydroelectric power supplied from ashore when calling at the Port of Vancouver during the upcoming 2009 summer cruise season. The innovative technology is being made possible through a partnership with several Canadian partners and sister company Holland America Line. Princess will use hydroelectric power from Vancouver’s grid instead of the ships’ diesel-powered engines to run all onboard services for its four ships docking at the Canada Place Cruise Ship Terminal during day-long turnaround calls. The new shore power installation is the very first use of this technology in Canada.

In addition, Holland America Line's ms Zuiderdam will become the fifth ship in Holland America Line’s fleet to use shore power when it homeports in Vancouver for its series of 7-day Alaska cruises during the 2009 season. Zuiderdam will join Oosterdam, Westerdam, Noordam, and Amsterdam, which have employed shore power in Seattle for Alaska cruise seasons since 2006.

Plug-in power isn’t new, but it’s relatively unheralded. Princess’ shore power program made history when it first began operations in Juneau, Alaska in the summer of 2001. It expanded to Seattle in summer 2005 and is planned to roll out in other ports that have made commitments to the technology. Currently nine of the line’s ships are outfitted with the capability to "plug in" to a shoreside power source, including Coral Princess, Dawn Princess, Diamond Princess, Golden Princess, Island Princess, Sapphire Princess, Sea Princess, Star Princess, and Sun Princess.

Other ports, such as San Diego, Los Angeles, and Civitavecchia, Italy (gateway to Rome), have or are working towards implementing shore power systems. In fact, the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners agreed last week to purchase a mobile unit that will allow cruise ships to plug into electrical generators at Berth 91 and a similar unit was purchased earlier this year for cruise ships docked at Berth 93. As ports come on line, Holland America Line plans to engineer additional ships in its fleet with the capability to use and purchase this power. Holland America’s newest ship, the Signature-class ms Eurodam, is partly outfitted for shore power and can have the final plug-in additions made quickly.

How does it work? Quite simply, after docking under their own power, cruise ships are hooked up to shore power and power generation is transferred back to the ship shortly before departure. Also known as "cold ironing," shore power uses electrical power transmitted from a landside transformer to the vessel via flexible electrical cables. The actual cable connection on a vessel is a traditional, though quite large, male/female plug and socket. The length of time needed to connect a ship to shore power and shut down the vessel’s diesel generator is approximately 40 minutes or less. Once connected, the ship’s engines are powered down and, simultaneously, the necessary amount of power, provided from shore is used to run the ship’s services while in port.

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