Ships in and near ports emit CO2 and pollute the local environment, impacting human health owing to their proximity to urban centres, such as in Los Angeles, CA, USA. Electrifying port activities and berthed vessels using the onshore power grid has therefore been proposed as an option to mitigate fossil fuel consumption and associated air pollution. However, the long-term impacts of these efforts have not been thoroughly quantified.
Kenneth Gillingham and Pei Huang from Yale University, CT, USA, projected the environmental impacts of US waterborne shipping under three electrification scenarios: freight and passenger vessel electrification; electrification of all main and auxiliary fuels consumed within 200 miles of the shoreline by vessels; and electrification of all US waterborne shipping activities. The implementation of carbon pricing policy alongside these scenarios was also explored. By 2050, air pollution from waterborne shipping activities was reduced by 8–65% in the electrification scenarios, with the highest reduction values related to the electrification of all waterborne shipping activities, regardless of distance to the shore. While changes over the near future (up to 2035) showed minimal differences in CO2 emissions between the three scenarios and the reference case, decreases of 0.05–0.4% (2.71–21.38 Mt) were projected by 2050 as electricity generation decarbonizes. Implementation of carbon pricing policy in addition to electrification would lead to a much greater reduction in CO2 emissions (1071.65 Mt together versus just 16.33 Mt CO2 reduction from only electrification of activities within 200 miles of shore) but did not substantially improve the pollution emissions when combined with electrification.
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The electrification of all US waterborne shipping activities scenario did show the highest impact on CO2 emissions and pollution but is also the most ambitious scenario, representing the upper bounds of the possible reductions. Nevertheless, results from all of the scenarios show the net environmental and public health benefit of electrifying waterborne shipping. Furthermore, shipping electrification was found to be an affordable way to reduce emissions, highlighting the need for policy encouraging transport electrification.