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Smart approaches to running sustainable warehouse operations

Efforts by leading global brands to reduce carbon emissions within their supply chains, are impacting how warehouses and distribution centres are operated and run.

Carbon-neutral warehouses are becoming more commonplace with newer developments, or redeveloped facilities, featuring technologies like onsite solar generation and electric vehicle (EV) chargers.

The e-mobility transition is creating opportunities for owners and operators of distribution hubs and warehouses to think more strategically about how they consume energy, especially electricity, which is required for lighting, HVAC systems, IT equipment and, increasingly, for recharging EVs. Why not forklift fleets too? Switching to battery-powered forklifts can achieve fuel savings whilst avoiding emissions generated by diesel versions, which can amount to several tonnes annually from a large-scale distribution or warehouse operation.

However, plugging all these extra loads into the local grid creates a new set of challenges, such as increased energy bills and potential charges from the utility for upgrading the local network. Fortunately, technologies like energy storage and smart controls allow electricity-hungry operations occurring 24/7 to optimise consumption of onsite solar generation. Energy management systems, like those being developed by Sunlight, can decide when to use solar to supply loads, or stored energy or when to supplement with grid electricity at cheap, off-peak times. Energy storage systems can also earn revenues, providing grid balancing and stability services when aggregated into virtual power plant platforms which many energy retailers and suppliers run or are able to access.

Investments, like onsite solar and storage have a better chance of success and achieving a return when all potential loads that can be powered by electricity are identified and they also comprise the most energy efficient solution.

Similarly, lithium ion battery-powered forklift fleets and AGVs result in greater operational cost savings, compared with lead acid, as they require less electricity to recharge and less maintenance, boosting both bottom line and sustainability efforts and credentials.