Powered by nature: Alternative energy in factories and beyond
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Once considered a static "cost of doing business," the high price of energy in manufacturing is no longer a given. There is now considerable financial negotiation room thanks to renewable and alternative energy sources.
No longer the pipe dream of off-the-grid cabin owners, devices like solar panels and even wind energy are being seamlessly incorporated into the warehouses of Fortune 500 companies and even the logistics providers that keep those warehouses working. A way to curb the ever-rising price of energy consumption while shoring up a huge consumer-facing selling point, eco-friendly energy is poised to revolutionize the manufacturing world just as surely as RFID and robotic solutions transformed warehousing.
Building a wind-powered future
The Home Depot chain is no stranger to fixing things — their entire business model is hinged on the idea of replacing, repairing and improving, after all. Though their aisles might be well-stocked with energy-hogging power tools and gas-guzzling mowers and trimmers, the company as a whole is moving toward a more sustainable approach.
According to Jennifer Runyon of Renewable Energy World, Home Depot recently signed a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with a 30,000-acre wind farm in southern Texas. This PPA — good for 20 percent of the wind farm's total output of renewable energy — is part of a larger effort over the next three years.
Home Depot has committed to procuring 135 megawatts of renewable energy through sources like solar and wind by 2020: a move that will no doubt free up a lot of energy expenses to reinvest in company structure and growth.
Dumping wastewater isn't just costly for the environment, the company that needs to dispose of it may end up paying hefty fines and fees to do so. According to a recent article published by Michigan State University, California-based PHYCO2 has found a rather creative use for a local brewery's wastewater: growing algae.
This microalgae not only absorbs carbon dioxide emissions from the "host" manufacturing plant as it grows, but the algae can also be used in manufacturing a wide variety of consumer products, including ice cream and even gasoline. After the algae does its work, the wastewater can even be recycled back into the host company's manufacturing systems, making an eco-friendly cycle that drives down CO2 pollution, wastewater dumping and water costs.
What can green do for you?
Though their iconic uniforms and fleet trucks may be brown, UPS is steadily moving toward green in their facilities. With solar collectors already in place on several facilities in California and New Jersey, UPS plans to expand their use of solar energy fivefold by year end 2017, Andy Szal of Manufacturing.net reports.
The bold push toward renewable energy comes courtesy of an $18 million, 26,000 solar panel initiative that UPS Facilities Procurement Director Bill Moir said will be used to add versatility to company facilities and support the new electric vehicles slated to join the corporate fleet in coming months.
From the lights above rack shelves to the trucks that fill the loading docks, there's no doubt that renewable energy is becoming a viable option for cost-cutting measures and smart scalability in every industry. Fossil fuels, while familiar to the domestic supply chain, are subject to the whims of the market and can throw an otherwise orderly budget into chaos, making renewable, company-owned energy an attractive prospect indeed.
What will 2017 hold for green energy innovations in manufacturing? Only time will tell, but the moves already in play suggest an impressive catalyst for industrywide change.
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