Energy Management Solutions for the Port of Los Angeles

by Matt Wartian on November 25, 2014

Port of Los AngelesWith growing prices of diesel fuel and increased restrictions on air emissions, California’s shipping ports are looking for electric alternatives to power their vessels — and with that comes the need for energy management solutions to increase power reliability.

As the nation’s busiest place for incoming goods, the Port of Los Angeles handles more than 175 million metric tons of cargo each year. Combined with the Port of Long Beach, the neighboring ports receive 70 percent of United States imports from China and 40 percent of all goods entering the country.

But all of this coming and going means ships are spending significant amounts of fuel to meet demand; fuel that then creates significant levels of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution if ships are left idling at the dock.

With California’s strict air emissions regulations, ship operators needed to find an energy alternative that wouldn’t require continuously running their diesel engines. The solution? Using a practice known as alternative maritime or shore-to-ship power, ships now connect to an electric power grid upon arrival at the Port of Los Angeles, enabling their engines to shut down while crews continue to load and unload.

Alternative maritime power helps solve the air emissions problem, but it’s putting a strain on the port’s power supply, which wasn’t designed to support that level of demand.

Electricity consumption is predicted to double, even triple, over the next decade as alternative maritime power use increases, cargo volume grows, and terminals shift from human-operated to automated and electrified cargo handling equipment.

Energizing the Future

With that kind of demand increase comes a higher chance of strained energy, and lower reliability and stability. As a landlord port overseeing 7,000 acres, 43 miles of waterfront and 24 cargo terminals, the Port of Los Angeles is committed to being a leader in energy management.

Our team is working with the Port of Los Angeles to develop an Energy Management Action Plan (EMAP) that will serve as the basis for future energy strategies at the port, and potentially other ports nationwide.

The plan calls for a high-level review of energy demand and use, current issues, areas of growth, and potential issues and opportunities for the future — like on-site energy supply options, including microgrids and fuel cells, which provide distributed energy sources that operate independently of the larger grid.

EMAP focuses on five energy pillars: energy resiliency, availability, reliability, sustainability and efficiency. It also provides a strategy for improving energy management and information at the port, including three next steps: study, reduce and secure.

A National Issue

Reliable power sources aren’t just a concern for West Coast ports. Natural disasters, like Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and infamous snow and ice storms in the Northeast, are destructive and disruptive to energy supplies at Eastern ports.

Energy management is particularly important as the shipping industry increases the size of ships and shifts shipping routes to reduce costs. Larger ships affect both cargo handling operations and energy demands when plugged into grid power.

The opening of the expanded Panama Canal in 2015-16 is anticipated to increase competition between East Coast and West Coast ports for cargo handling business. This has resulted in significant investments by ports on both coasts to modernize and expand capacities.  For example, the Port of Los Angeles is investing $3 billion in capital improvements to enhance efficiencies and prepare terminals to handle larger ships requiring more power.

With all these changes, it will be more important than ever for ports to begin energy management planning to provide secure, reliable and competitive services to their clients. It’s critical that we find a way to manage and secure power supplies before we experience the next grid failure.

While port operations are unique, ports do not need to reinvent the wheel when incorporating secure, reliable and renewable energy into their operations. The Department of Defense’s SPIDERS program, which stands for Smart Power Infrastructure Demonstration for Energy Reliability and Security,  provides a model for port microgrids. As we develop port-specific models, we will share that knowledge with ports around the country, helping to protect a vital part of our economy.

The future of energy management holds exciting possibilities, both in energy-related improvements, but also paving the way for entirely new energy projects. If you’re interested in learning more about the Port of Los Angeles or other on-site energy supply options, connect with me on LinkedIn.

Matt Wartian is business development manager in Burns & McDonnell’s Southern California offices. He has more than 10 years of professional and academic experience assessing environmental resources and delivering innovative approaches to solve natural resource management issues for development, transportation and renewable energy projects. Want to learn more about working with Matt? Connect with him on LinkedIn.

A version of this post first appeared in Burns & McDonnell’s quarterly magazine, Benchmark: “Port of Call: Los Angeles.” 

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Transforming Trash into Energy

by Scott Martin on November 20, 2014

Gundersen Health Systems landfill gas-to-energy projectAlthough energy collection is possible from sources like sun and wind, these natural options don’t generate renewable energy as consistently as another abundant component of our everyday life.

What’s this less glamorous resource? Trash — buried, decaying, we-don’t-ever-want-to-see-that-stuff-again trash.

Our garbage is the perfect source of renewable energy because the gas flow in landfills is consistent: it’s generated morning, afternoon and night. Unlike solar and wind power, which are burdened with climate and weather restrictions, landfills generate fuel all day, every day without dependence on sunshine or breezy conditions.

It’s reliable, renewable energy that works.

Today, landfill gas — methane produced when organic material decomposes — feeds a market need as energy suppliers seek innovative solutions to meet renewable energy demands from the governments, utilities and consumers.

With more than 2,000 landfills handing municipal waste across the country, most sites allow the gas to escape naturally, while others collect the gas through piping and transport it to flare stations to be burned off.

Similar to carbon dioxide, methane is a significant landfill byproduct, one that traps heat at a rate 25 times higher than its fellow greenhouse gas.

This dual benefit of emissions reductions and renewable energy generation is causing a growing number of landfills to serve as opportunistic power plants and fuel-producing fields. Municipalities, utilities and manufacturers increasingly recognize the pervasive gas as a valuable raw material, capable of fulfilling various energy needs.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA,) nearly 600 landfills across the nation have launched gas-to-energy projects, and another 550 sites are candidates to have methane recovered and harvested. These projects alone are capable of providing enough energy to power more than 716,000 homes.

A Healthy Partnership

One example is the Gundersen Health System (pictured above) in La Crosse, Wis., where a landfill gas system generates clean, renewable energy that creates revenue to support a sustainability-focused health system. This partnership provides substantial savings and increases environmental awareness for everyone involved.

When completed in 2012, the system began converting the landfill’s source stream — about 300 cubic feet of methane per minute — into enough electricity and thermal heat to answer all energy needs of Gundersen’s Onalaska Campus, including:

  • A six-story clinic housing physicians’ offices, patient visits, outpatient surgeries and related services.
  • A four-story office building for staffers in support services — human resources, accounting and maintenance.

The buildings cover 350,000 square feet, and every inch is heated, lighted and energized by the electricity and heat from a Jenbacher JMC 416 reciprocating engine running on landfill gas.

Rather than burning its unwanted methane, the La Crosse County Landfill collects and pipes the gas under Interstate 90 to the heavy-duty power generator. Heat produced by the engine is also used to warm water, which circulates throughout the health campus.

Thanks to the project, Gundersen’s Onalaska Campus is energy independent and accounts for 11 percent of the health care system’s utility load, which includes more than 50 clinics, three hospitals and four nursing homes in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Not a One-Size-Fits-All Solution

Projects like this improve the environment in our communities and help lower the cost of health care by reducing energy costs. But as successful as they are, converting landfill gas to energy isn’t for everyone. Some landfills are too small to yield cost-efficient projects; others can’t cut costs enough to compete with other renewables. In some instances, government and utility incentives for alternative energy aren’t sufficient for landfill owners to consider landfill gas a viable option.

But conditions change, and technologies evolve. And some of the most market-sensitive businesses already use landfill gas to fuel manufacturing operations, including BMW, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors. And interest is accelerating.

What do you think about the use of landfill gases? Do you see a successful future for gas-to-energy systems? We’d love to know what you think!

Scott Martin is a senior mechanical engineer in Burns & McDonnell’s Environmental Division. He specializes in landfill gas-to-energy and other landfill projects.

Other Resources on This Topic:

Benchmark: Turning Waste to Power

Partnerships Boost Landfill’s Long-Term Health

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