Market Snapshot: Reindeer are (by far) the most energy efficient way to deliver presents

Release date: 2016-12-21

It is estimated that Santa flies an estimated 350 million kilometersFootnote 1 on Christmas Eve while delivering presents to households around the world. Although Santa’s observed use of a reindeer teamFootnote 2 for this task is usually attributed to tradition, it turns out that reindeer power is incredibly more energy efficient than other forms of transportation.Footnote 3

Energy Efficiency of Santa’s Reindeer Compared to Other Modes of Transportation (Logarithmic Scale)

Source and Description

Source: NEB Calculations

Description: The above bar graph illustrates the energy efficiency of Santa’s reindeer. Due to the considerable range in efficiency, a logarithmic scale is used. Figures vary from 0.0001 litres of gasoline equivalent per 100 km for reindeer to 1 500 litres per 100 km for a long-haul passenger jet. Several motor vehicles are also considered, including a hybrid car (2.3 litres per 100 km) and a light duty truck (14 litres per 100 km).

Assuming that all of Santa’s reindeer are femalesFootnote 4 with an average weight of 100kg, and that their metabolisms are identical to regular reindeer/caribou, the daily energy requirement of each reindeer is estimated at 47.2 megajoules (MJ). Further assuming that Santa’s reindeer consume ten times more food than usual (or 472 MJ each) on Christmas Eve in preparation for the trip,Footnote 5 and that they also substantially draw down their fat reserves during the trip itself,Footnote 6 it is estimated that Santa’s reindeer burn a total of 14 410 MJ delivering presents over Christmas. Converting this energy to units of gasoline, Santa’s reindeer burn the equivalent of 416 L of gasoline that night.

When calculated this way, the energy efficiency of reindeer power can be compared to other forms of transportation. On Christmas Eve, Santa's reindeer team are estimated to consume 0.004 MJ of energy per 100 km traveled, or approximately 0.0001 litres of gasoline equivalent per 100 km travelled. In contrast, the current most efficient modern car is a plug-in electric vehicle, which would consume the energy equivalent of 2.3 litres per 100 km, or over 17 000 times more energy than Santa's reindeer team. A regular compact car would consume 7.5 litres per 100 km, a light duty truck 14 litres per 100 km, and a modern fighter jet 590 litres per 100 km.

Adding to the benefits of reindeer is the fact that they seem to be able to achieve these efficiency rates despite operating at remarkable speeds,Footnote 7 and could reduce their already minimal greenhouse gas emissions with an adjusted diet.Footnote 8

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