| Written by Constance Stickler

More and more goods need to be transported refrigerated or at a controlled temperature, whether they are perishable or sensitive or, because ambient temperatures in transit could negatively impact the freight.

Reefer gensets play a large part in ensuring that these goods are safely delivered everywhere on the globe, even to remote areas and that as many people as possible can benefit from their safe transport.

Reefer Gensets

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The Importance of Gensets in Reefer Operations

The "Global Reefer Container Market" report predicts steady growth for reefer containers in 2024 and beyond until 2032.

A central element for the successful growth of this supply chain segment is the uninterrupted energy supply to the reefers on their journeys around the globe. This is the only way to guarantee that the temperature regulations can be strictly adhered to and that the goods reach their recipients safely.

In terminals and on large vessels, they can be easily connected to the power grid or the on-board network, but in depots and while being transported on trucks and trains, mobile supply via gensets must be used.

Reefer gensets play a crucial role in the global supply chain, especially when transporting perishable goods such as fruit, vegetables, meat and pharmaceuticals. The impact can be seen in several key areas:

Preservation of perishable goods

Gensets ensure that perishable cargo maintains the required temperature throughout its journey from producer to consumer. This reduces the risk of spoilage during transport and grants the shelf life calculated by the producer, minimising product losses and ensuring the availability of fresh and safe goods.

Expanding market access

Reefer gensets enable the transport of temperature-sensitive goods over long distances, across multiple modes of transport and to remote locations where temperature-controlled transport and storage infrastructure is limited or non-existent. This expanded market access allows producers to explore new markets and consumers to access a broader range of fresh produce and often much-needed medicines, contributing to global trade, economic growth, and improved medical care.

Support for just-in-time supply chains

For some industries, such as food and pharmaceutical, just-in-time inventory management is critical. Here, gensets play a crucial role in maintaining the integrity of supply chains. Reliable temperature control during transport ensures products reach their destination on time and in optimal condition, minimising stock-outs and supply interruptions.

Mitigation of seasonal fluctuations

Another benefit of reefer gensets is that they help mitigate the impact of seasonal fluctuations in production and demand for perishable goods. For example, fruits and vegetables harvested in peak season can be transported to regions with off-season demand, helping to balance supply and demand and stabilise prices in global markets.

Compliance with regulatory requirements

Guaranteeing an uninterrupted cold chain helps entrepreneurs comply with various regulatory requirements related to the transportation of perishable goods, such as food safety standards and temperature monitoring regulations (learn more about a remote reefer monitoring system). By maintaining precise temperature control and documenting temperature conditions during transportation, refrigeration units help ensure compliance with regulatory standards and reduce the risk of product recalls or regulatory penalties.

Overall, gensets play a critical role in facilitating the efficient and reliable movement of perishable goods within the global supply chain, supporting economic growth, market access, as well as food and medicine security worldwide.



Reefer Gensets and the Flexibility of the Multimodal Cold Chain

Multimodal transport, i.e. the seamless integration of several different types of transport, is crucial for efficient and cost-effective transport, especially of perishable goods. Gensets enable some of these multimodal transport solutions by reliably providing power to refrigerated containers to maintain the required temperature integrity across different stages of the journey.


Gensets on Trucks

Gensets for reefers on trucks are probably the most commonly used and widely known use.

Trucks are unbeatable in their flexibility, mainly as they cover remote or rural areas that cannot be reached by other means of transport as they are not connected to the rail network and are not located by the sea or other waterways. They can also travel directly to manufacturing locations such as factories, farms, or warehouses.

Trucks are also clearly ahead when it comes to speed, at least for short and medium distances. This accelerated delivery capability is particularly important for short shelf lives, such as dairy products, where rapid delivery is essential for saleability.

Another advantage is that delivery schedules and routes can be adjusted at short notice to respond to specific customer requirements and market demand patterns. It is easy for a truck to make another or a different stopover spontaneously.

The same applies to last-mile delivery as with picking up the goods directly from the producer. Trucks take over the entire transport from producer to dealer or consumer or bridge the gap between distribution centres, transport hubs, and trade or consumers.

All of this flexibility is made possible by the gensets, which can be mounted to various locations on the truck (see FAQs).


Gensets on Trains

Gensets play an essential role in transporting reefers on rails. Like other forms of transportation, trains require a power source to power the refrigerated containers. While some trains have on-board power systems, many railcars lack this capability. In these cases, reefer gensets are used.

These can be mounted directly on the railcars or attached externally, either permanently mounted or only temporarily attached to the wagons using mounting brackets.


Gensets on Barges

Barges often lack special onboard power systems that could also supply reefers, which is why gensets are essential for independently providing the required energy. They can also be installed on barges either permanently or only mounted for a desired period of time.

Installation depends on the barge's design, the size and weight of the gensets, and other logistical considerations. Strategic positioning is important to minimise interference from other cargo or equipment (want to learn more about reefer monitoring on river barges?).


Alternative or a transitional solution to investment-intensive installations

Gensets in Container Terminals and Depots

Most large container terminals have an adequate number of reefer plugs to cover needs. But here, too, there are sometimes seasons where demand exceeds supply. Or situations in which reefers are not allowed to be stored next to other reefers due to their cargo. Then flexibility counts, and this can be achieved through gensets (read more about reefer management).

Of course, they can also be used as a temporary solution during a terminal expansion as long as the planned number of plugs has not yet been installed.

Reefers with cargo are also stored in container depots, and of course, these also have to be supplied with the necessary energy. 

Remote and Off-Grid Operations

In remote, truck-only or off-grid areas with limited or unreliable electricity, gensets provide a practical and efficient solution for transporting perishable goods. This applies to delivering fresh produce to rural communities, providing medicine and food aid in disaster areas, or supporting exploration and construction projects in remote regions. Gensets enable companies and humanitarian organisations to provide vital supplies to previously underserved populations and remote locations—an indispensable contribution to food security, economic development and disaster relief.


Powering Perishable Logistics in the Australian Outback

One region of the world that relies heavily on the use of gensets is the Australian outback.

The outback is a vast and remote region that occupies most of Australia's interior and is characterised by deserts, harsh terrain and low population density.

In such an environment, the logistics of transporting perishable goods are particularly challenging, making flexible gensets essential for maintaining the quality and integrity of temperature-sensitive cargo.

Remote communities

The outback is home to numerous remote communities, farms, mining sites and indigenous settlements scattered across vast areas. These communities rely on regular deliveries of perishable goods, such as fresh produce, dairy products, meat and medical supplies.

Long distance transportation

Transporting goods across the vast distances of the outback requires reliable refrigeration systems to deliver fresh fruit from Queensland orchards to other Australian regions or frozen produce to remote communities in the Northern Territory.

Agricultural supply chains

In and around the outback, vast agricultural regions are found where a wide range of crops are grown, and herds of livestock are kept. Reefer Gensets are crucial for quickly and safely transporting agricultural goods from rural farms, e.g. in the Adelaide Hills, to urban markets, distribution centres, and export facilities.

Mining and resources sector

The Australian Outback is rich in natural resources such as minerals, metals, and energy, which support a thriving mining and resources sector. Exploration and mining sites set up for exploitation rely on regular food, equipment and fuel deliveries to maintain operations and support the workforce. Goods transported using reefer gensets ensure workers have access to fresh food when working in isolated environments such as the gold mines of Western Australia or coal mines in outback Queensland.

In summary, reefer gensets are flexible, versatile, and invisible tools for transporting perishable goods worldwide, especially in demanding environments. By providing reliable power to refrigerated containers, gensets enable the efficient and safe transport of fresh produce and other temperature-sensitive items, thereby supporting global trade as well as the development of regions and even remote communities.



Types of Gensets 

Diesel-Powered Gensets

These gensets are the most common type used for reefers. They are powered by diesel fuel and offer reliability and efficiency in maintaining the required temperature for perishable goods.

Electric-Powered Gensets

Electric-powered gensets are gaining popularity due to their environmental friendliness and lower emissions compared to diesel-powered alternatives. They are often powered by electricity from the main power grid or alternative energy sources such as solar or wind power.

Hybrid GenSets

Hybrid gensets combine multiple power sources, such as diesel engines and electric motors, to optimise fuel efficiency and reduce emissions. They offer flexibility in power generation and can switch between different power sources based on operational requirements.

Natural Gas-Powered Gensets

Some reefer gensets are designed to run on natural gas instead of diesel fuel. Natural gas-powered gensets offer reduced emissions and operating costs compared to diesel-powered alternatives, making them an environmentally friendly option for reefer operations.

Dual-Fuel Gensets

Dual-fuel gensets are capable of running on both diesel fuel and natural gas, providing flexibility in fuel options and potentially reducing fuel costs depending on the availability and price of different fuel sources.


Types of Reefer Gensets on Trucks

Under-mount or side-mounted Genset

The under-mount genset is firmly mounted to the truck's container chassis. This type of genset is suitable for refrigerated containers and even for heating the cargo. It is particularly suitable if you want to transport frequently changing containers by truck.

Clip-on Genset

The clip-on gensets are more flexible to use and can be mounted on the refrigerated container itself if necessary. Both the installation on the reefer and its replacement can be done within minutes. This makes a clip-on genset the perfect solution for refrigerated containers that are transported by ship, truck or train, as well as for storage in locations where no power connection is available.

Pin-Mounted Genset

This genset type is mounted to the upper front structure of a reefer; the installation/de-installation also takes only a few minutes due to quick connections to the top mounting holes of the reefer container with a mounting pin, as well as attaching points on the side near the bottom.

Rear-Cab Genset

Rear-cab generator sets are mounted to the back of the container truck cabin.


How Long Can a Genset Provide Enough Energy For a Reefer?

How long a genset can provide sufficient energy for a reefer depends on various factors, including capacity, fuel, ambient temperature, reefer insulation and temperature requirements.

Aggregate capacity

Capacity is usually measured in kilowatts (kW) or kilovolt-amperes (kVA) and determines its power output. More capacity means more energy and, therefore, operation over more extended periods.

Fuel type and availability

For example, diesel, natural gas or electricity are used as fuel. What is used determines energy efficiency and availability.

Ambient temperature

The temperature around the refrigerated container has a direct impact on the genset's workload. In hot climates or during heat waves, the genset must work harder to maintain the required temperature inside, shortening its operational lifespan.

Reefer insulation

How well a reefer is cooled affects its ability to maintain temperature. Well-insulated refrigerated containers require less energy from the power generator, and the operating time is longer.

Temperature requirements

The specific temperature requirements of the transported goods determine the capacity utilisation of the unit. Some goods, such as frozen food, but also pharmaceuticals, which require very low temperatures, require more energy from the genset.



We learned about the ever-increasing importance of the global refrigerated transport of goods and the crucial role of reefer gensets in ensuring safe deliveries, particularly in remote areas. They represent expanding market access, supporting just-in-time supply chains, mitigating seasonal fluctuations and complying with regulatory standards.

Gensets are particularly indispensable in multimodal cold chain logistics, as they make flexible transport on trucks, trains and barges possible. They also enable urgently needed scalability and independence from significant investments in stationary installations in container terminals and depots.

Energy Efficiency in Container Terminals Whitepaper

Delve deeper into one of our core topics: Reefer Monitoring


(1) https://www.zionmarketresearch.com/report/reefer-container-market




Conny Stickler, Marketing Manager Logistics

Constance Stickler holds a master's degree in political science, German language and history. She spent most of her professional career as a project and marketing manager in different industries. Her passion is usability, and she's captivated by the potential of today's digital tools. They seem to unlock endless possibilities, each one more intriguing than the last. Constance writes about automation, sustainability and safety in maritime logistics.

Find here a selection of her articles