Insights on Emission Reduction With AIS Data

in Decarbonization, Research by

Researchers at ETH Zurich provide new insights on the emission reduction potential of shore-side electricity using AIS data from FleetMon.

Port of Felixstowe and high-traffic vessel lanes using FleetMon Explorer

The urgency for climate action expressed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) demands a rapid market uptake of CO2 reduction measures in all sectors. For international shipping, the European Commission has frequently emphasized the important role of providing shore-side electricity to ships at berth, being a rather simple way of reducing CO2 emissions of ships, but also due to considerable co-benefits: Local air pollution in sea ports is primarily caused by emissions of ships at berth and poses a severe threat for premature mortality on the local residents.

Current knowledge about shore-side electricity

While main engines are usually shut off while at berth, the auxiliary engines and boilers provide power and steam for cargo handling and hotelling functions. To quantify the emission reduction potential of replacing fossil fuel based auxiliary engine power by shore-side electricity, detailed knowledge on the auxiliary engine power demand as well as the time ships stay at berth is needed. Due to data scarcity, existing studies have been limited to few ports (most often one, at most 25).

New methodology proposed by ETH Zurich researchers

Using AIS data from FleetMon, researchers at ETH Zurich have established a novel methodological approach to determine emissions of ships at berth. They combine AIS data with the emission report of the Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) scheme of the European Commission. Thereby, they estimate the emission reduction potential of shore-side electricity in the major 714 ports of the European Economic Area (EEA) and the United Kingdom (UK).

New insights

In their latest research article, they show that shore-side electricity could avoid 3 Mt CO2 per year if ships would plug into the national electricity grids. The additional electricity demand of 6.4 TWh ranks comparably low, given the average reduction of ships’ total emissions by 2.2%. Among different ship categories, passenger ships have the highest emission reduction potential for shore-side electricity since they show a high demand for auxiliary power for hotelling functions while berthed.

In their study, led by ETH graduate Boris Stolz, they provide high-resolution data about the auxiliary power demand at all major EEA and UK ports. It can be freely downloaded from the Supplementary Information.

While the article also mentions reduced pollutant emissions from using shore-side electricity, data is scarce regarding emission factors of on-board auxiliary engines and boilers as well as electricity generation at land. Future research should improve existing data bases and refine the results of their study.


Within the European Green Deal, shore-side electricity is mentioned prominently as a means to reduce local air pollution and contribute to the EU’s CO2 targets. Within a fruitful collaboration between ETH Zurich and FleetMon, they provided scientific evidence for the next round of policymaking. The newly generated insights help to prioritize ship categories, ports, and countries where the benefits of shore-side electricity are currently the highest.

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