Saving energy at terminals

Reducing our Footprint

Transportation is one of the world’s largest contributors to global emissions, hence climate change. Since the introduction of the container, global trade has taken unprecedented growth, fostered by ever decreasing costs. At the tip of our fingers, the global shopping window is exposing itself to the global consumer. Digital forms of shopping facilitated by a growing global supply chain have created a market for buyers and sellers like we have never seen before.

This newfound phenomenon has brought unparalleled prosperity to the world. Despite the many crises the world’s politicians have at hand, the global economy keeps growing and will continue to do so. With another 6 billion people who have wealth levels well below the developed countries, there are enough prospects for the global sellers of more and less useful products.

While people in developed countries keep spending a lesser percentage of their disposable income on ‘products’ in favour of services, this is a long way out to the majority of the world’s population. But as the world’s wealth and levels of civilisation keep rising, an increasing number of products will be purchased, awaiting transportation.

Although transportation is getting more and more efficient, we still have a long way to go until our global supply chain is sustainable, or in more fashionable terms, ‘carbon neutral’. As long as we have giant ocean steamers burning some of the dirtiest fuels in the world, there is work to do, which starts in ports.

In 2030, European ports will have to be equipped with shore power so that these vessels in port stop polluting. The challenge just in realising that is already gigantic. The amount of power which needs to be supplied, combined with the infrastructure changes inside ports and terminals, will require enormous efforts from the port authorities and their concession holders.


Along with these investments in new (electric) power provision, other investments inside the terminals can and should be made. Meanwhile, fully electrified terminal operations are available, although the cost of acquiring them and the long implementation times are substantial hurdles. Yet, electrification of the equipment fleet is seen as the key contributor for terminal operators to meet their emission reduction goals.

Not only does electrification come at a high cost, it has substantially impacts operations when it concerns mobile equipment. Certainly, battery technology is rapidly developing, but the high-duty pattern in terminals doesn’t align well with the limited-capacity batteries offered these days. Recent research by Portwise shows that at least an additional 10-25 per cent of fleet needs to be acquired to keep operating at the same level when all equipment is battery-powered.

In addition, the charging itself brings its challenges. First, one doesn’t (and can’t) charge all vehicles at the same time, so to even out charging peaks, there should be a constant rotation of vehicles operating and being charged, which doesn’t align very well with shift patterns. Secondly, the integration of large charging locations takes up space, and one central location may cause traffic issues.

So, if battery technology is not the non plus ultra, what technology brings a panacea? Is it hydrogen, biodiesel, compressed natural gas (CNG), or simply hybrid technology? The answer to this question is not so simple. Local availability of such fuels, pricing, and the operational fit, make it a question of tailoring to the situation.

Hydrogen may seem the solution, but it’s not readily available (anywhere), very energy intensive to make, and overall (still) very expensive. Of course, it’s conceptually feasible with green energy to produce it, but providing it at a large scale is still a long way out.

Key Point

What we – as Portwise – miss in the current (very valuable) discussion around reducing our emissions and environmental footprint is reducing the energy we use. Look at the electric cars we buy: they are all much bigger and heavier than the cars we drove before, offsetting any gains we have by electrification.

In any discussion around energy consumption, the first question should be how to reduce the amount we use to transport the cargo. Our operation is far from efficient as McKinsey quantified in 2018 (estimated waste of $70-80 billion, see reference). When we move containers through the terminal, we tend to move them on average five times, instead of the minimal two times! Three additional moves to get a container through a terminal. Why? Because we don’t have our act together.

Therefore, the energy transition should start with operational efficiency, better information flow, better planning, and many more operational improvement measures. Evaluating improvement studies carried out by TBA in the period 2007-2020 shows that energy consumption can be reduced on average by 12 – 16 per cent: without investments in new technology. Read the entire article here.


About the authors:

Yvo Saanen works as Managing Director at Portwise (previously TBA Group). He has worked in the ports and terminals field for over 25 years and holds lectures on the industry at various universities.

Mieke Staal works as a Simulation Consultant at Portwise and has extensive experience with capacity analyses in ports and other logistics facilities.

This article has been published in the August 2023 edition of Port Technology International.