Bringing clean ferry power to Dover

A view of Port of Dover with cliffs in the foreground

In 2021, the University of Kent led a new research and innovation project with the Port of Dover, P&O Ferries, Warwick Manufacturing Group and Schneider Electric to investigate steps towards decarbonisation of the cross-channel ferry fleet as part of the national priority of achieving net-zero by 2050.

The Challenge

The Port of Dover contributes to 33% of all UK – EU trade and handles 2.4m trucks and 30% of all ferry arrivals into the UK. Port of Dover is also the UK’s second busiest cruise port with over 25 cruise lines and 200,000 guests.

The Port of Dover Air Quality Strategy (2020) has identified shipping as the largest source of air pollutant emissions within the port. This needs to be addressed if the UK is going to reach net zero emissions by 2050. The Government’s Clean Air Strategy has made ‘driving down emissions from ships and reducing the impact of emissions from the maritime sector on the environment and public health’ a priority and to help them achieve this, the Government launched the £20m Clean Maritime Demonstration Competition (CDMC) funded by the Department for Transport and delivered in partnership with Innovate UK. The Dover Clean Ferry Power (DCFP) Project was one of 55 projects funded by the CDMC which set out to investigate steps towards decarbonisation of the cross-channel ferry fleet.

The Approach

The DCFP project brought together a consortium of key business and academic partners including Port of Dover, P&O Ferries, Schneider Electric, the University of Kent, and Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) over seven months to study the techno-economic feasibility of potential electric power solutions for Short Straits (e.g. Dover to Calais and Dunkirk) ferries.

Led by the University of Kent’s Centre for Logistics and Heuristics Optimisation in Kent Business School, it focused on accurately identifying energy demand by current and future ferries operating at the port over different planning horizons and real operating conditions. It also sought to understand the potential innovative, realistic and reliable energy supply pathways within the infrastructural and operational constraints of the port.

Several innovative tools were developed as part of the feasibility study to enable the consortium and the key project stakeholders (i.e., the port and the ferry operators) to realise the scale of the problem and what needs to be done to address it. The developed models were exercised against an excess of 1,700 simulation scenarios based on the number of ferries utilising electrical energy, the seasonality and frequency of operations.

“It was difficult to get hands on data to the timescales we wanted and getting the right people in the right room in such a short amount of time was a challenge, but it made all feel really worth it and we’ve come out with something really good.” Megan Turner, Port of Dover

The video below provides further insight into the project from the perspectives of:


Mehmet Cagin Kirca (11:20), expert in systems modelling at WMG who worked with his team to extract data provided by P&O and the Port of Dover and  used them in their energy output model to predict the energy requirements for the installation of a hybridized/electric ferry fleet.

Peter Selway (6:40) from Schneider Electric which acted as the middle man, taking the predicted power requirements of the Port of Dover and marrying these up with what is available from the grid to understand how the Port might meet its energy demand with energy storage and renewables.

Dr Ramin Rhaeesi (1:05), Project Manager and member of the Centre for Logistics and Heuristic Optimisation (CLHO) at Kent Business School which transformed the data and modelling into a viable business system which considered the cost implications for all stakeholders involved, including capital investments and operational costs, to optimize and minimize the cost of meeting the Port’s energy requirement.

Megan Turner (15:25), Environment and Sustainability Manager at the Port of Dover who co-ordinated the project, supplied data and supported Ramin with the project management of the project.

The Result

The project produced a realistic roadmap towards port net zero emissions which included an outline of a future demonstration project and key performance indicators such as the economic impact and lifecycle emissions from the developed solutions.

“The consortium was brilliant and we had the right partners for the right project.” Ramin Rhaeesi, University of Kent

Modelling from the project showed that:

  • electrical demand would vary significantly depending on the number of ferries and time of year (for instance, air conditioning would add to power requirements in the summer).
  • if all 12 ferries operating on the Short Straits changed to full electric power for both services and motive it would result in savings in life-cycle emissions of over 90% but the amount of electrical energy required in the port would increase 40 fold at peak times.
  • This extreme scenario is unlikely to be either necessary (some charging may take place in France), practical (due to constraints on the grid) or economic with support for own generation or storage;
  • even a modest change to cold ironing (ferries plugging to shore power when alongside) results in a roughly four fold increase in electrical supply requirements for Dover. Therefore, even modest increases in supply will need careful planning for the development of an integrated electrical supply infrastructure.
  • energy generation and storage can have benefits within the port, both from a resilience perspective and an economic one (not being subject to peak energy costs).

View of the Port of Dover from the cliffs

The project also identified a number of challenges which the port will need to overcome:

  • The port carries over £144 billion of international trade per year and is strategically important to many
    supply chains
  • Its location restricts space for energy supply, generation and storage
  • Vessels are only alongside for a very short period of time
  • Schedules need to be maintained 24 hours a day, 364 days per year

Further work needs to be done to demonstrate the Port of Dover’s ability to address these challenges. One option would be through bespoke charging systems supported by energy storage and renewables which would enable ultra-fast connection and disconnection and the transfer of significant energy over a short period of time.

“With a phased transition, everything is possible and in the short term, the next follow on project will hopefully enable the Port to provide cold ironing for all operating ferries.” Ramin Rhaeesi, University of Kent

For more information about the project, contact the University of Kent’s Funding and Partnerships Manager, Simon Barnes.

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