By Mike McClendon and Adam Simpson
Commercial buildings account for nearly 35% of all the electricity consumed in the U.S. This presents an enormous opportunity for America’s private sector, particularly large companies, to reduce their carbon and climate impacts. Yet, while thousands of leading companies have pledged to decarbonize operations as part of their sustainability goals, getting there is a formidable challenge. Businesses must eliminate carbon while containing costs and ensuring that operations stay up and running – even as power grids come under increasing demands and climate-driven threats.
The most sustainable and fastest way for companies to reach net-zero targets with their buildings is to build the economic and resilience cases that support them. There’s no reason to wait because the technology and data to build those cases are already here. Advances in energy efficiency and power generation – on both the demand and supply sides of the equation – open the door to rapidly improving self-sufficiency, year-round resilience, and cost savings all at once.
On the demand side, commercial businesses can improve energy efficiency and reduce electricity waste and costs by retrofitting older facilities and modernizing lighting, HVAC, and other power-hungry systems with new, far more efficient offerings. These moves can significantly reduce the considerable amount of energy waste in commercial buildings today. By some estimates that waste runs as much as 30%. Implementing smart sensors, energy-efficient processes, and intelligent energy management software can deliver further benefits.
On the supply side, the most widely adopted path to renewable energy for commercial buildings has been to install rooftop solar arrays. Over the past five years, this onsite generation has accelerated rapidly as solar costs have plummeted. However, solar needs to be paired with the local utility grid or with other sources of onsite generation to ensure business continuity when the sun isn’t shining during outages or in winter months when solar power is substantially weaker. Solar can be paired with batteries, which can carry and discharge power for additional hours. However, for true cost control and continuity, businesses need longer-term resilience in the form of flexible, clean onsite generation for periods of days and weeks and across seasons.
In November, Lineage Lineage Logistics, the world’s largest and most innovative temperature-controlled real estate investment trust (REIT) and logistics solutions provider, was one of the thousands of companies who signed on to Amazon and Global Optimism’s “The Climate Pledge,” vowing to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2040.
Committed to advancing its clean energy efforts, Lineage partnered with Mainspring Energy in October to install 3.3 megawatts of solar power and 460 kilowatts of linear generator power in its Colton Agua Mansa distribution facility in Southern California.
The company turned to low-carbon, fuel-flexible linear generators that can ramp up when the sun isn’t shining, and importantly, ramp down when it is, hour-to-hour and year-round. This deployment meets 100% of the building’s electricity needs while also lowering costs and increasing resilience. Importantly, fuel flexibility ensures that the facility can run its generators on multiple types of fuel, including fully renewable fuels such as biogas and green hydrogen as they become increasingly available during the transition to a zero-carbon grid.
The time to act on decarbonization is now. The private sector doesn’t have to look years ahead to envision the road to clean energy in buildings. The technology to get started is available for those willing to take the first steps. Beyond being the right thing to do, it’s a sound business practice to invest in and prioritize greater efficiencies and more sustainable energy sources. Smart business leaders will innovate towards bold energy goals while future-proofing energy investments and gaining self-sufficiency, resilience, and control along the way.