| Written by Constance Stickler

Due to the recent cost explosion, container ports' energy consumption is increasingly becoming operators' focus. 

In this blog post, we discuss why it is essential to keep a close eye on reefer power usage and how this enables financial savings benefits.

Reefer Power Consumption

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"Knowing what you don't know is the best part of knowing." (Lao Tse)

Conversely, not knowing what you don't know is the worst part of not knowing. And in between: looking for what you don't know is the first step to understanding.

In most cases, however, it requires a reason to take a closer look, as is the case with energy consumption worldwide.

For a while, energy consumption wasn't a big issue, or at least wasn't seen as such: As long as the environmental impact was not immediately noticeable, energy costs and needs were manageable, and the economy flourished, the topic was present, but not urgent. However, those circumstances have changed, and radically so.


Environmental impact

One great impetus for rethinking is that almost everyone can nowadays feel first-hand how the climate changes. The topic of cooling has arrived in regions that used to be thankful for every day of sunshine in summer. Today they groan under heat waves and drought. Where it has always been warm, it is now often unbearably hot.

In recent years, this has led to more and more regulations and initiatives aimed at the sustainable use of resources, such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Port Environmental Energy Plans (PAEP), and the ISO energy certification. 


Energy costs

Energy prices have risen earlier, but not to the same extent as in recent times. For example, even shortly before the unlawful invasion of Ukraine, the wholesale gas price was about 200% higher than the year before. 

In particularly energy-demanding sectors, the increases have even led to company closures. Finally, the situation has eased again, but prices remain fluctuating and higher than before; there will be no return to the thoughtless waste of energy.


Energy needs

A central element of a sustainable port is decarbonisation. In cooperation with shipping companies, port authorities worldwide take action to meet the IMO's strategy to reduce marine greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 40% until 2030.

How to master this enormous task in the given time? The magic word is electrification. 

In addition to the usual, well-known suspects such as lighting, heating and cooling, and office equipment, there are new players: Vehicle fleets, handling equipment and pilot ships are gradually being electrified. 

And then there are the vessels. Their onboard network is usually fed by diesel or shaft generators, while only by an alternator with smaller watercraft. It has been a rule for many years, especially with long idle times, that the onboard power supply was connected to the shore power supply. For a good twenty years, efforts have been made to ensure that ships that only stay in port for a short time also can use shore power.

This should contribute to reducing the environmental pollution caused by exhaust gases, noise and waste heat, as well as saving fuel for the generators primarily operated with marine diesel oil.

But of course, it poses enormous challenges for the ports to provide the energy required in the future.



We are used to the ups and downs in business, especially after our experiences from the pandemic, which are continuing or still impacting us: Forecasts get corrected every few weeks because drastic things are happening, for example, China's recent move away from the Zero-Covid policy. 

In uncertain times, saving and the most economically sensible use of resources are the order of the day. However, since fixed-term obligations are already known - like the European Union's "Fit for 55" initiative with its deadline in 2030 - certain investments must be made to ensure future viability.

To be able to invest with less money available makes holistic planning the top priority: when such a large project is pending, it has to be an effort from all stakeholders, and all measures have to mesh like well-oiled gears.

So what is the first step? We collect as much knowledge about our power consumption as we can.


What will we find out?

Spoiler alert: if there are many reefers in the yard and the port is not situated in the cold regions of the globe, they will take the top place of the ranking. At some ports, their share in total consumption is up to 40% and rising since the demand for perishable goods such as vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, and pharmaceuticals only gets bigger. 

Why? If you look at the demographic developments, the populations are growing, and with it, the demand, especially in warmer to hotter countries. In Africa, for example, the UN expects population growth of over 40% by 2050 in almost all states. (Source: Worldbank based on UN data 2015)

Keeping this in mind is essential not only when it comes to nutrition but also in medical care. The Corona crisis, in particular, has shown that global health is only as good as its weakest link and that all people have to be provided with effective medicines, such as vaccinations. 

And while the WHO is trying to make long-established vaccines less sensitive to temperature, new mRNA vaccines will require even colder conditions.

Looking at the power consumption in container ports, we will detect enormous fluctuations in energy needs. Power peaks are reached when loading and unloading happen, especially when a large number of reefers are connected to the grid at the same time.

This pattern poses a problem as most ports buy their energy demand-based, and at such peak times, they exceed the capacity reserved for the terminal leading to hefty costs.


Why should you know about reefer power consumption?

They who know can save: Imagine knowing in real time what energy is being consumed. That means you also see how consumption suddenly swells with a larger number of new reefers. This, in turn, allows you to select the number of reefers currently being plugged in precisely so as not to exceed a certain consumption level (learn more about reefer container power supply).

This is called peak shaving: You distribute the workload and the connection of reefers so that the energy consumption never even comes close to the threshold. It is similar to load levelling but is used to reduce peak demand rather than to economise operations.

If the port generates all or part of its energy supply, this approach has several advantages:

  • Saving on the bills by reducing or eliminating peak demand
  • Reducing operational costs of generating power during peak times 
  • Decreasing or no need for peaking units
  • Postponing investments in infrastructure because of flatter loads and smaller peaks


Consistent reefer monitoring also improves maintenance and in-time repairs.

If there is a sudden or unexplained increase in energy consumption, the problem can be addressed immediately. 

This timely intervention also has the effect that there are fewer claims. The issue is identified and solved before the cargo can be affected.

Wasted cargo is not just a problem for manufacturers and carriers; it's detrimental to all of us. Every action is needed if you look at the amount of food and pharmaceutical products perishing yearly (read more about the supply chain of pharmaceuticals). After years of improvements in global hunger, the situation has worsened in several countries in the last ten years again, putting the goal of Zero Hunger by 2030 at risk. According to the World Bank, approximately 30 per cent of all food globally gets wasted. In addition, the pandemic has delayed medical care; there is a vast need to catch up. And yet $35 billion worth of drugs are thrown into the bin each year.

All those who believe in monitoring contribute to stopping this waste. So, how long can you afford not to know?

Another reason managers of reefer operations should know what's going on with each, and every unit is consumption-sensitive pricing. When energy costs reach a certain level, it becomes necessary to take a closer look at the differences in the energy consumption of individual units. An additional fee for reefers that exceed a specific value is conceivable, similar to the pricing of energy suppliers for peak demand.



It is high time to take a closer look at energy consumption and a sustainable cold chain. On the one hand, there are enormously increased costs that need to be reduced, the keyword being peak shaving; Anyone who can monitor the consumption trends in real-time can counteract the attainment of maximum values and the additional costs caused as a result. On the other hand, constant observation also helps prevent damage to reefers or their contents, making equipment maintenance easier and causing fewer claims. And if you want to introduce usage-based pricing, you must be able to collect precise data about reefer power consumption.

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