Can modern, high-tech warehouses rely solely on the power grid?

As warehouses add automation, facilities managers explore alternative energy and smart sensors to reduce reliance on the grid. As facilities

As warehouses add automation, facilities managers explore alternative energy and smart sensors to reduce reliance on the grid.

As facilities add more tech, they’re also changing the way they use power, and how much of it. If done right, modern warehouses — or retrofitted warehouses — can put less stress on the nation’s power grid, despite having more automated and powered technology than ever before.

“A lot of people have been working very hard to make our national grid a little bit more stable,” Jim Mathers, CEO and president of Energy Professionals, told Supply Chain Dive in an interview. Still, isolated outagesnatural disasters, and the threat of the power grid being hacked has facility managers looking to make their power supplies less reliant on the grid.

It can save a lot of money too, not just in spending less on energy itself but staying in operation should an outage happen, whether it’s a hack, as happened at Puerto Rico’s power utility last year, or a massive outage as is currently affecting Venezuela’s power grid.

“Energy is like air and water. You just assume you wake up and that you’re going to be able to breathe. You assume that if you’re thirsty you can get a glass or bottle of water,” said Mathers. “Without energy, a business can’t produce its project for its consumers. We assume when we get to the plant, the lights are working and the motors are running.”

Self-power for less stress on the grid

The best way to put less stress is to pull as little energy from it as possible. Some facilities “island” themselves into their own microgrids, Andrew Dillon, senior principal of energy and utilities at West Monroe Partners, told Supply Chain Dive in an interview.

This is where a facility “connects to the grid at a point of common coupling that maintains voltage at the same level as the main grid,” according to the Department of Energy. If something goes wrong with the grid, the facility can switch off from the main grid to separate its microgrid and act independently. The Illinois Institute of TechnologyNew York University and the U.S. Army’s Fort Bragg all have microgrids.

Still, Dillon said, “I think every facility is going to rely on the grid to some degree.”

Already, large facilities are putting solar panels on the roof or building solar canopies over parking areas and using battery storage systems to power their facilities. They’re not necessarily there to completely power operations but “to play a buffering role, and those two technologies are going a long way to providing more energy independence for the facility,” Dillon said.

While most facilities can’t go more than 24 hours on their own power, it does help to have some kind of backup plan. It also allows them to rely on their own power sources at times of the day, like in the afternoon and early evening during peak hours, when energy prices are high, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which can save millions of dollars in energy spending.

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