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UPS Goes Big on Solar

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United Parcel Service this week announced that it will deploy solar energy assets worth $18 million to at least eight of its facilities by the end of the year.

The new investments will produce almost 10 MW of power, which represents an almost five-fold increase over current generation. The locations were not named in the press release. The plan is to purchase more than 26,000 panels and enable each facility to produce half of its electricity in the manner.

UPS has been using solar power since 2004, when it installed equipment in Palm Springs, CA facility. Solar power also is in use at UPS facilities in Lakewood, Parsippany and Secaucus, N.J. The press release says that additional deployments are expected in the future.

Now was the right time to go big. “UPS has been involved in the solar market since our first installation in 2004, and in that time frame we have seen a steady drop in prices,” wrote Bill Moir, UPS’s Director of Facilities Procurement in response to emailed questions from Energy Manager Today. “As solar prices drop, and the cost of electricity continues to climb, we are seeing more and more UPS facilities which present as offering solid financial returns for on-site solar. The last 6 months alone have seen a 20% drop in panel prices. This competitive market has made the opportunity attractive for UPS.”

UPS says that it has worked on energy efficiency and renewables more broadly than solar. “UPS’s long history is one of highly engineered efficiency, both on road and at the facility level,” Moir wrote. “There are very few things UPS has not explored within the facility efficiency space, from lighting upgrade programs dating back to 1994 (in excess of 200,000 fixtures upgraded since then), to experimental facility fuel cells, energy management systems, high SEER HVAC upgrades and thermal storage. We tend to be in our facilities for a very long time, and UPS recognizes the value that a highly efficient facility can add to your bottom line, while improving your sustainability.”

Moir said that the drive to increase energy efficiency will continue. “We continue to upgrade our lighting fixtures, moving more aggressively into LED technologies, and we have a number of conveyor level initiatives we have been evaluating,” he wrote. “And of course, we anticipate more solar opportunities.”

Of course, UPS’s energy efficiency efforts will succeed or fail based on its fleet management capabilities. Though this largely is outside the realm of facility energy managers, it likely influences them to some extent. For instance, the need for electric vehicle charging stations will impact energy issues within facilities.

UPS last October bought 200 hybrid electric delivery trucks from the Workhorse Group, which formerly was called AMP Electric Vehicles. The trucks use lithium-ion batteries and range extenders.

UPS facility and vehicle energy efficiency efforts are not completely discreet. “There is a bit of a nexus, one which will likely grow in time,” Moir wrote. “Some of the same forces that are driving alternatives within the fleet space create both opportunities, and challenges within the facility space.  Facilities are experiencing increased opportunities for using on site distributed energy (solar, fuel cells, Microturbines, Nat Gas Generation, CHP).  Fleet deployments of LNG tractors and vehicles with onsite fueling facilities create opportunities for natural gas supply to facility energy usage via fuel cells, Microturbines, or Nat gas generators. Fleet deployments of Electric Vehicles (EV’s) challenge facility infrastructures, yet open doors for evaluating on site “battery storage”, and various demand side management strategies. As these technologies and solutions become more available and mature, UPS is looking hard at the big picture and evaluating ways to ensure we are getting the most financially and sustainably, out of the solutions we are deploying.”

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