Designing, building, and maintaining our ports for a sustainable future 

Morven Bridges, Head of Engineering, Port Infrastructure & Planning 

Decarbonisation of infrastructure, both new and existing, is critical if we are to successfully meet Scotland’s 2045 net zero target. 

CMAL is contributing to this target by adopting a whole system approach to embedding future sustainability into infrastructure projects from the design stage, through construction, into operation and maintenance. Considering how ports will be used and maintained from the outset gives us the opportunity to lock in wider sustainability benefits. For example: 

Shore power allows moored vessels to connect to the local electricity network to draw power, instead of relying on diesel generators.  This can be used to provide heating, lighting and other energy requirements of the crew living onboard, and/or to charge batteries to provide power when the vessel is at sea. 

We have operational shore power charging at three locations – Largs in Ayrshire, Lochranza on Arran, and Lochaline in Lochaber. We have installed units at Tarbert, Loch Fyne for Tarbert Harbour Authority and Clachan on Raasay for The Highland Council – to allow the existing diesel-electric hybrid ferries to charge overnight. We also have third party power outlets at Oban, in Argyll, and Port Ellen, on Islay, to allow non-ferry harbour users to draw power.  

Shore power is being incorporated into designs for port enabling works required at Kennacraig in Argyll, and Port Ellen and Port Askaig on Islay, ahead of the two new vessels that are currently being built to serve Islay, and at Tarbert (Harris) for the Little Minch vessels.  We also have a (safely isolated) unit installed at Brodick on Arran, to serve future vessel needs. 

As we develop plans for fully electric vessels via the Small Vessel Replacement Programme, we are working with our vessels team, local authorities, and power distribution network operators to incorporate shore power across more of the network.  

Using lower maintenance materials with longer lifespans means we can reduce the number of maintenance visits required during the life of port infrastructure.  

We also look for infrastructure solutions that can be maintained and repaired by local contractors, rather than relying on specialist contractors from mainland UK, or sometimes even Europe.  Building relationships with the local supply network allows these contractors to invest in training and development of local staff. 

Looking at how local communities and visitors travel to and from our ports is also important. We include provisions for Active Travel facilities to encourage ferry service users to walk, wheel, or cycle to access the ferry service. We also work closely with CalMac and local authorities to provide facilities to enable the ferry service operator to integrate with other modes of public transport.  This is a major design requirement for new projects. For example, when selecting the preferred location for new passenger berths at Gourock, in Inverclyde, pedestrian access to the train station is a key factor. 

Preparing ports for the increase in use of electric vehicles (EV) is another way we are encouraging low emissions travel. We currently have ChargePlace EV chargers at eight ports, and we are in the process of renewing five of these to ensure they are more resilient in our maritime climate.  

As well as decarbonisation of the infrastructure, we also need to consider the effects of climate change on our ports and harbours.  Designs need to account for future sea level rises and increased intensity, frequency and duration of extreme weather events.  All our designs must factor in climate adaptation measures, such as increasing drainage capacity in marshalling areas to accommodate surface water run-off, and lengthening slipways to allow vessels to operate over an increased tidal range.  

We are installing wind, weather, and tide monitoring equipment across the network, which will provide vessel masters with information to assist their operations and will also allow us to collect data to help inform future designs. 

As new technologies and solutions are developed, we will continue to consider these for integration in our future designs to further reduce, if not eliminate, harmful emissions.