| Written by Mark Buzinkay

With the rising concern over climate change and the escalating costs of energy, ports and terminals worldwide are recognizing the urgent need to prioritize energy efficiency and environmental protection. Stricter regulations aimed at curbing pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions have pushed the port industry to reevaluate its operational strategies and energy usage patterns.

In this whitepaper, we delve into the crucial role of innovative technologies in facilitating the transition from a carbon-intensive port industry heavily reliant on fossil fuels to a low-carbon model that harnesses renewable energy and alternative fuels. By conducting a systematic literature review, we explore various operational strategies, technology applications, and energy management systems that have the potential to significantly improve energy efficiency and environmental performance in ports and terminals.
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The role of energy efficiency

European ports are significantly emphasising their environmental profile and excelling in port environmental management. With a strong focus on well-connected infrastructure, efficient services, and transparent funding, the reduction of energy consumption has emerged as a top priority. In fact, it ranks third among the top 10 environmental concerns for the European port sector. To address this, 57% of European ports have already implemented energy efficiency programs, while 20% have taken steps to directly generate renewable energy. A recent paper introduces a structured approach for developing a port energy management plan (EMP), which highlights key considerations, challenges, and prospects.

After 2020, energy consumption has gained special attention as a significant environmental priority in the European port sector. In recent years, it has risen to the second position, following air quality, in terms of importance. To address this concern, European port authorities have been actively working on developing policies, action plans, and management frameworks. These efforts are crucial for identifying and implementing effective solutions tailored to local conditions and priorities. By doing so, ports aim to achieve substantial environmental benefits and cost savings. The following sub-sections outline commonly adopted policies, standards, and strategies for managing energy consumption in port areas. 


ISO 50001

ISO 50001 is an energy management standard introduced by the International Standards Organization (ISO) in 2011 to support energy managers in achieving energy consumption reduction goals. It follows the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) improvement cycle. The standard involves conducting an energy review, setting baseline energy data, defining an energy strategy, establishing energy-saving targets and objectives, implementing selected measures, monitoring and reviewing processes, and making strategic decisions for continuous improvement. ISO 50001 emphasises a systemic, data-driven approach to improving energy performance.

While ISO 50001 offers significant benefits in enhancing energy efficiency, its implementation poses challenges. The standard requires a substantial commitment of effort and resources, making the certification a weighty commitment for port authorities. As a result, the adoption of ISO 50001 within the European Union (EU) remains low. The ports of Felixstowe and Antwerp were the first to achieve certification, with other ports such as Valencia and Hamburg following suit. However, the number of certified ports still needs to grow, especially among smaller ports.


EN 16001

The European standard for Energy Management Systems (EnMS), EN 16001, serves as a close alternative to ISO 50001, with EN 16001 being introduced in 2009 and acting as a predecessor to ISO 50001. While both standards share similarities, there are notable differences between them. For example, they follow the same PDCA cycle structure, allowing for easy integration with environmental management systems. However, ISO 50001 introduced three new concepts not present in EN 16001.

The first concept focuses on the role of top management in defining energy policies and objectives, allocating resources, and establishing operational roles. ISO 50001 emphasises the need for an energy management team led by a management representative to support top management. The second concept, in the 'PLAN' phase, provides a more detailed energy review process to establish a solid baseline and monitoring of energy performance using appropriate indicators. The third difference lies in the 'DO' phase, where ISO 50001 emphasises designing processes, systems, and equipment that impact energy aspects, including outlining the energy policy in contracts and communications with energy suppliers.

However, certain aspects of EN 16001 were not adopted in ISO 50001. These include a priority scale for energy aspects, identifying workforce activities affecting energy consumption, and cost projections for upgrades and associated energy consumption reductions. These aspects supported investment decisions based on energy consumption forecasts.

EN 16001 had limited applicability in the European port sector, likely due to the lower emphasis on energy efficiency by port authorities at that time (2009).


Port Energy Management Plan

The Port Energy Management Plan (PeMP) methodology provides a step-by-step approach for port authorities interested in developing their energy management plans. This methodology considers global initiatives like the Port of Los Angeles and can serve as a preliminary step towards accreditation to energy management standards. The methodology begins with a generic energy consumption mapping and assessment method to establish a baseline.

The mapping process follows a three-level top-down approach, assessing total energy consumption, process blocks, and physical processes within the port. By evaluating energy consumption at each activity level, gaps and inefficiencies can be identified, leading to targeted recommendations for improvement. These recommendations are communicated to port community stakeholders for consensus on necessary actions. Re-engineering processes are then defined and implemented, with key performance indicators determined for the development of the PeMP. Finally, the plan outlines actions, timeframes, cost estimates, and responsibilities for enhancing energy efficiency.

The methodology has been successfully applied and tested in six Mediterranean ports, including Valencia, Marseille, Livorno, Venice, Koper, and Rijeka. Key energy consumers were identified in each port, and measures were proposed to achieve significant energy and cost savings. Through pilot testing and prioritisation, successful results were achieved, leading to full-scale implementation decisions. For instance, the port of Livorno established and operationalised a cold-ironing system based on the pilot testing results.

While the PeMP is not a certification procedure itself, it serves as a valuable intermediate step for port authorities, gradually preparing them for future certification to more demanding standards. This approach helps port authorities in their journey towards achieving higher levels of energy efficiency and sustainability.


Port Environmental Management Plans

Energy management plays a significant role in Port Environmental Management Plans (PEMP) and green policies implemented by port authorities to address environmental concerns in an integrated manner. However, these plans often have a broader focus and allow for a considerable degree of flexibility, resulting in limited commitment from port authorities to efficient energy management.

Currently, seven Port Authorities in the Mediterranean region, including Venice, Trieste, Koper, Bar, Durres, Thessaloniki, and Piraeus, are actively developing PEMPs to cover various areas of intervention. These plans, finalised in 2020, prioritise energy management improvements and aim to reduce energy consumption levels across the ports.

Each port has specific initiatives tailored to enhance energy efficiency. For instance, the port of Venice plans to conduct an energy performance diagnostic process to accurately assess current energy consumption levels and devise appropriate improvement strategies. In addition, the port of Trieste is exploring implementing an onshore power supply (OPS) system at its Ro-Ro terminals, which is estimated to reduce CO2 emissions by over 40%. To ensure efficient planning, guidelines from the Italian Ministry of Environment and the Municipality of Trieste's Sustainable Energy Action Plan are considered to achieve alignment.

The Port of Bar focuses on developing an inventory of existing equipment to gather detailed data on energy consumption. Additionally, a prioritised list of feasible energy sustainability measures is being compiled for the entire port as well as specific areas and operations. In Durres, the feasibility of investing in clean and renewable energy is being assessed, including the installation of a photovoltaic system, conversion of vehicles and equipment from diesel to electric, and the implementation of an OPS system.

The port of Thessaloniki aims to develop a real-time information system to monitor electricity, natural gas, water, and fuel consumption across all port activities. Simultaneously, they are working on developing PEMPs following a specific methodology. Similarly, the port of Piraeus is investigating an energy consumption monitoring system that will support its future certification to ISO 50001. This infrastructure, along with other measures such as improving building energy efficiency, implementing lighting control systems, and electrifying selected terminal equipment, will contribute to the port's environmental goals.

In line with their green policies, some European port authorities have introduced modal split clauses in concession contracts for container terminals. These clauses obligate terminal operators to improve environmental and energy performance, aligning with the port authority's vision and targets. For example, the port of Rotterdam required bidders for the Maasvlakte 2 container terminal concession contract to describe their proposed modal split and the strategies they would employ to achieve the desired split. Additionally, various other environmental instruments can be considered in terminal concession settings.

The integration of energy management into port planning and policies presents both challenges and benefits. The broader focus and flexibility of planning instruments may limit the commitment to efficient energy management. However, the development of PEMPs and the implementation of energy efficiency measures across Mediterranean ports demonstrate a proactive approach to reducing energy consumption and improving environmental performance. By incorporating energy management strategies, ports can contribute to sustainability efforts and align with international standards.


Technological and Operational Measures Adopted for Improving Energy Efficiency

Operational measures

Four operational measures have been implemented or pilot-tested in European ports to improve energy efficiency. Two of these measures directly target energy efficiency, while the other two contribute indirectly by focusing on other improvements that lead to lower energy consumption.

One measure is the automation of terminal equipment, either fully or semi-automated. These automated terminals optimise container flows, resulting in reduced energy consumption and extended equipment lifetimes, leading to better resource preservation. The port of Rotterdam's Maasvlakte 2 terminal is the most automated in Europe, with increased automation levels also found in ports such as Hamburg, Antwerp, Barcelona, Algeciras, London, Liverpool, and Thamesport. However, globally, automation in container terminals is still at an early stage, with only 8% of terminals being fully and semi-automated (2022).

Truck appointment systems (TAS) are another measure that rationalises truck arrivals at ports, offering multiple benefits. These systems reduce idle time for trucks waiting outside the terminal, maximise the utilisation rate of container yard equipment, and decrease the turnaround time for trucks. This leads to energy savings, particularly when considering reefer containers, which account for a significant portion of energy consumption in ports. TAS prioritise the arrival of trucks picking up reefer containers, minimising their dwell time and resulting in substantial energy consumption benefits. Several European ports, including Antwerp, Gothenburg, Gdansk, Southampton, and Felixstowe, have implemented TAS with varying features and capabilities.

Eco-driving of terminal equipment is a direct measure to improve energy efficiency. By driving equipment in a more environmentally friendly manner, such as avoiding frequent braking and stopping, maintaining a steady speed, and shifting gears at low RPM, fuel consumption can be considerably reduced. This not only mitigates air emissions but also improves air quality in the port area. A program implemented in Copenhagen and Malmö educated and trained machine operators in eco-driving principles, resulting in a 10-15% reduction in fuel consumption and significant cost savings.

Terminal lighting represents a substantial portion of energy consumption in container terminals, and implementing dynamic (smart) lighting systems can lead to energy savings. These systems adjust light intensities based on real-time operational needs, effectively reducing operating and maintenance costs. Full-scale implementations and pilot projects have been conducted in various ports, including the port of Moerdijk, where LED street lights equipped with motion sensors and managed by a centralised control system reduced operating costs by 80% and maintenance costs by 50%. Pilot tests of the Terminal Dynamic Illumination (TDI) system in the port of Valencia and a LED-based system in the port of Emden also demonstrated significant energy and cost savings, as well as improved working conditions and safety.

These operational measures face challenges in terms of implementation and balancing environmental and operational efficiency. However, their benefits include reduced energy consumption, lower costs, extended equipment lifetimes, resource preservation, improved air quality, and enhanced working conditions and safety. By adopting these measures, European ports can contribute to sustainable operations and align with energy efficiency goals.

Port energy effiency and infrastructure

Infrastructure and facilities that support port energy efficiency include various systems and technologies implemented in ports to improve energy efficiency and exploit renewable energy sources. For example, energy monitoring systems play a crucial role in understanding a port's energy profile and assessing progress over time. Examples of such systems can be found in ports like Valencia, Koper, and Jade-Weser-Port. These systems generate real-time key performance indicators and provide information on energy consumption, supporting better planning and decision-making.

Onshore power supply (OPS) systems are another infrastructure that contributes to energy efficiency by substituting the operation of marine diesel auxiliary engines with onshore electricity during vessel berthing. OPS systems offer even more significant energy savings when coupled with renewable energy sources. The port of Gothenburg was the first to implement such a system in 2000, with other ports like Ystad, Oslo, Rotterdam, and Kristiansand following suit.

The development of infrastructure for efficiently exploiting renewable energy sources in ports has gained momentum in recent years. Wind energy has been a significant focus, with investments in ports like Rotterdam, Antwerp, and Amsterdam. Rotterdam, in particular, accounts for 10% of the total wind energy capacity in the Netherlands. Solar panels have also been widely implemented in European ports, primarily on the rooftops of warehouses and office buildings. Ports like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Gothenburg have large-scale solar panel installations.

Ocean energy, specifically wave and tidal energy is still in the early stages of development in European ports due to the technologies' maturity level. The port of Naples has installed an overtopping breakwater system for wave energy conversion. Pilot projects and research efforts are underway at various ports to advance wave energy converters' technology readiness level. Tidal energy exploitation in ports has been limited, with only one pilot project conducted in Dover.

Geothermal energy and biomass have been explored in some European ports. Marseille's port has a marine geothermal plant which utilises geothermal energy from the sea to supply heat and cooling to port buildings. The port of Rotterdam aims to become a major hub for biomass, with plans for biomass co-firing in power plants. The port of Koper has investigated the potential of using waste biomass for heating, hot water preparation, and biogas production.

To efficiently manage energy from multiple sources in a port, smart energy grids have been developed. These grids integrate different energy sources into the grid, reduce energy consumption costs, ensure grid reliability, and increase energy awareness among port consumers. Examples of smart grids can be found in ports like Antwerp and Rotterdam, where wind turbines are effectively connected to the grid, and blockchain-enabled approaches are being explored.

The implementation of these infrastructures and facilities in European ports brings several benefits. They contribute to reducing energy consumption, lowering emissions, and promoting the use of renewable energy sources. Energy monitoring systems enable better planning and optimisation of energy usage. OPS systems help decrease air emissions and improve energy efficiency during vessel berthing. Exploiting renewable energy sources reduces dependence on fossil fuels and promotes sustainability. Smart energy grids enhance the integration of diverse energy sources and improve overall port energy management. Continue reading about integrating a remote reefer monitoring system.



European ports have made significant strides in prioritising energy efficiency and environmental protection. By adopting innovative technologies, implementing energy management standards, and embracing operational measures and infrastructure, ports are actively contributing to sustainable practices and aligning with international standards. The continued commitment to energy efficiency and the adoption of renewable energy sources are crucial for the maritime industry to mitigate climate change and ensure a more sustainable future.

European ports have implemented various infrastructures and facilities to support energy efficiency and exploit renewable energy sources. Energy monitoring systems (see how Reefer Runner connects to Tideworks TOS), OPS systems, renewable energy installations (wind, solar), and smart energy grids are among the measures adopted. These initiatives contribute to reducing energy consumption, emissions, and costs while promoting sustainable practices in port operations.

Energy Efficiency in Container Terminals Whitepaper


Dive deeper into one of our core topics:  Reefer Monitoring



ISO. (2018). ISO 50001:2018 – Energy management systems. International Standards Organization.

Tsilingiridis, G., Vlachos, D., & Panagiotakopoulos, D. (2016). Review of energy management standards for seaports: ISO 50001 and EN 16001. Journal of Cleaner Production, 112(Part 4), 3620-3631.

Kontovas, C., & Psaraftis, H. N. (2016). Port Energy Management: Review and Future Directions. Energy Procedia, 96, 305-322.

Sdoukopoulos, Eleftherios, Maria Boile, Alkiviadis Tromaras, and Nikolaos Anastasiadis. (2019). Energy Efficiency in European Ports: State-Of-Practice and Insights on the Way Forward. Sustainability 11, no. 18: 4952. https://doi.org/10.3390/su11184952