Analysis

A blueprint for the future? Powering a new breed of building

28th October 2019
Lanna Cooper

Just as technology changes society, it changes the businesses and buildings we need. You don’t need to look much further than the internet’s impact on the retail sector to see this transformation in progress.

By Pradyumna Pandit, VP of Digital Energy UK and Ireland at Schneider Electric

The rise of disruptive, online-only retailers has necessitated the emergence of logistics, product and distribution warehouses, with their own unique energy requirements. 

This new breed of facility enables businesses to keep pace with changing consumer habits and deliver unrivalled convenience. However, these same facilities demand energy efficiency and resilience on an unprecedented scale. Facility managers must ensure energy costs are kept under control while the supply of power remains uninterrupted.

Today's organisations should take a connected and automated approach to building operations using IoT-connected sensors and data-driven facility management tools.

From data to decisions

Technology will continue to be at the centre of retail innovation. Yet modern technology requires a constant stream of energy, representing one of business’s largest yearly outgoings. Today’s logistics and distribution warehouses depend on the latest technologies to stay in play.

Warehouse automation is crucial for driving increased speed and efficiency, but it’s founded on energy-hungry tools and applications. This is in addition to the largescale lighting, heating, ventilation and air conditioning requirements of these facilities.   

To keep energy costs under control, it’s imperative facility managers reduce overall consumption by eliminating waste energy. With a smart, connected approach, however, there are valuable opportunities for savings and efficiencies.

The first step in improving energy efficiency is understanding how much energy you’re actually using. Facility managers needs real-time insight into energy consumption, only possible with data collection. Small energy sensors, connecting your electrical assets to the facility’s building management system, will provide a steady stream of energy consumption data. They will give you insight into how much energy systems and individual devices are using.

However, the sheer scale of the data collected means it will be difficult to extract actionable insight unaided. Fortunately, edge control software systems can do much of the heavy lifting. Most can collect and organise the data from your facility’s electrical network and present it as easily interpretable information. This enables real time monitoring, consumption analysis and cost management.

With valuable insight on hand, a facility manager can direct positive interventions to cut waste and reduce consumption. Interventions may have little impact when viewed in isolation, but when taken over a longer period they have the potential to generate millions in energy savings.

A micro solution to a macro problem

Major distribution centres need energy at all times. Energy supply security is critical in distribution facilities, where a power cut can cause damaging business interruptions with consequences for the supply chain and market share.

A distribution centre can suffer a power cut or have its access to energy reduced when electricity cables are damaged or when the wider energy grid has become overburdened. Yet, when the distribution centre runs on a microgrid, this danger is drastically reduced.

A microgrid has the ability to island itself from the main grid to become self-sufficient. When the main grid encounters a problem, the microgrid is quickly decoupled but can still continue to deliver energy from local sources its connected to.

Access to a microgrid not only delivers power resilience, it can help an organisation reach its environmental goals. In a microgrid, energy is typically generated from renewable energy sources. If the facility is able to operate completely detached from the wider grid then it’s possible to have a distribution centre that’s powered by energy 100%.

Largescale distribution centres are fast becoming the new normal in retail. With a smart, connected approach facility managers can optimise operations and keep energy costs under control. Retail success no longer depends solely on service and customer experience, it relies on energy efficiency and sustainability.  

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