Although the actions described in this section require more extensive implementation, they can dramatically increase the efficiency of your warehouse.
Install an enterprise energy management (EEM) system. It is impossible to optimize what you don’t measure, so you might consider an EEM system to track your facility’s use of electricity, water, compressed air, gas, and steam. An EEM system combines data-acquisition hardware and software to enable a broad-based understanding of how energy is used in a facility. The data an EEM system collects allows energy managers to track costs, identify anomalies, and automate demand-response reactions. EEM systems can also be used to benchmark a variety of parameters ranging from outside-air temperature to the quantity of packages processed or stored. These insights on performance can be used to compare one facility to another or to look at how performance varies over time. An EEM system would be useful for determining the actual payback periods of any efficiency measures implemented.
Upgrade to more-efficient lighting. Lighting is typically one of the largest consumers of energy in a warehouse; accordingly, it often can represent the best opportunities for savings. Broadly speaking, lighting savings can be found in two areas: installing the most appropriate lighting technology and controlling it effectively.
In a warehouse with old probe-start metal halide lamps, savings can be gained by installing newer, pulse-start lamps, but even more savings can be had with fluorescent lamps or light-emitting diodes (LEDs). High-intensity discharge (HID) lamps (high-pressure sodium and metal halide) were the mainstays of high-bay lighting for many years, but in about the year 2000 advances in the performance and color quality of fluorescent lighting made high-intensity fluorescents (HIF) the most efficient, cost-effective choice in many cases. Compared to HID lighting, fluorescent lighting (predominantly T5 high output and high-performance T8 lamps) offers many pluses, including higher efficiency, longer life, lower lumen depreciation rates, better dimming options, faster start-up and restrike times, better color rendition, and less glare, but they are also more sensitive to temperature variations. On the HID side, higher-wattage ceramic metal halide (CMH) lamps and compatible higher-wattage electronic ballasts have made CMH more competitive in some applications. Induction lamps are also a viable HID option where maintenance costs are especially high, although induction lighting is less efficient. And lamp life ratings for both LEDs and HIFs are approaching those of induction lamps.
Today, LEDs are starting to make inroads into high-bay applications. Compared to fluorescents, LEDs offer similar efficacy (and the technology is still rapidly improving), longer life, similar color quality, more controllability, and better light-distribution patterns. The most promising early applications for LEDs were in cold storage because LEDs perform better in cold conditions than other lamp types. Since then, LED products have become more efficient, and with less heat to dissipate and better techniques for handling the heat LEDs do create, high-bay applications have expanded to more general warehousing applications.
A large warehouse might have the lights on across the whole facility, even if only a small portion is occupied at any given time. In these cases, the ability to just turn lights on when they are needed can have a substantial impact on consumption. Occupancy sensors and timers can capture these savings, but they need to be combined with lighting systems that are effective when controlled. HID light sources have long start-up and restrike times and so can’t be shut off based on occupancy, but they can be dimmed to about 50% of initial power. Fluorescent lighting is a better choice for controllability due to its faster startup time, but frequent on-off switching can reduce its life span. LEDs are the most amenable to control—they react instantly and suffer no degradation of life with frequent switching—but they are more costly.
For some warehouses, skylights and daylighting controls can also be a big energy-saver. Lighting control systems can automatically turn interior and exterior building lights on and off based on a preset schedule, rather than relying on personnel to remember to turn lights off.
Optimize refrigeration. Although refrigerated warehouses are generally highly customized, there are a number of technologies that can be considered:
- Moderately oversized evaporative condensers controlled by variable-frequency drives (VFDs) can be highly effective in refrigeration units.
- Properly sized evaporator coils cooled with VFD-controlled fans can optimize the energy performance of refrigeration units.
- Proper insulation and efficient compressor motors are almost always cost-effective efficiency investments.
- Controllers that initiate defrost cycles based on actual ice buildup are more effective than those that run on timers.
Install a cool roof. In cooling-dominated climates, when it’s time to replace the roof, consider installing a cool roof; these have surface coating that reflects solar radiation, reduces the cooling load, and can reduce temperatures near the ceilings in unconditioned warehouses. A roof renovation could also be a good time to add insulation.
Minimize air infiltration. One major source of energy loss for warehouses can be air infiltration through open loading docks and doors. Similarly, refrigerated areas within warehouses lose a lot of energy when doors are left open to allow forklifts to come and go. This can be minimized by making sure that the doors are closed and sealed whenever possible, but this can be easier said than done. People working on loading docks can find it tedious to open and close doors several times a shift, so they save time by leaving the doors open, which can have a significant energy cost. One solution is to install specially designed doors that open and close quickly (but safely) and encourage employees to use the doors whenever possible. In doorways with so much traffic that even rapidly opening warehouse doors would be too slow, adding strip curtains has proven to be an inexpensive way to reduce energy losses.
Employ radiant heaters. One challenge with efficiently heating a warehouse is the wide range of functions and spaces in the facility. If a large warehouse has a small section used as an office, people working there will expect a reasonable indoor room temperature year-round. The same applies to individuals working on a loading dock on a cold winter day. Maintaining a comfortable temperature throughout the entire large—and mostly unoccupied—space can be costly and inefficient. In these situations, gas or electric radiant heaters (also known as beam radiant heaters) can be mounted above the areas that require heat, keeping workers comfortable even with the building air as low as 40° to 50° Fahrenheit (F) (4° to 10° Celsius [C]). These devices provide thermal comfort to people within line-of-sight, but are not designed to bring the overall air temperature up.
Install big ceiling fans. Improving air circulation with large fans can be an effective way to save a substantial amount of energy. If the space is air-conditioned, ceiling fans save energy by improving air circulation, which can allow the facility to raise the temperature by as much as 4.5°F (2.5°C) while still maintaining occupant comfort. If the facility is heated, warmer air will naturally stagnate near the ceiling where it won’t do much good, but ceiling fans will vertically circulate the air. Several case studies have shown that a few large ceiling fans provide better air circulation and greater energy efficiency compared with multiple smaller, high-velocity fans.
Use electric forklifts. Diesel- or propane-fueled forklifts require extra ventilation in the facility, which adds to the HVAC load in conditioned spaces, making the forklifts less cost-effective. Electric forklifts have higher initial costs (capital plus installation) but lower energy and total operating costs, so the total lifecycle costs are comparable. One often-unexpected cost when deploying electric forklifts is increased demand charges, but these can be avoided by using a timer to only charge the forklift batteries during off-peak hours. An emerging option is the use of fuel cell–powered lift trucks, which are just entering the market.
Install variable-speed drives. Variable-speed drives (VSDs), which adjust motor speed to suit production needs, can cut energy use. They are less likely to be cost-effective on conveyors—where the power requirement is linear—than on pump and fan systems, for which power requirements increase in proportion to the cube of their speed.
Purchase high-efficiency motors. Some warehouses use a number of electric motors, such as for distribution systems, and these can represent a substantial opportunity for efficiency. High-efficiency motors can pay for themselves in electricity savings, and diagnostic systems can identify when motors might need maintenance. Electronic motor starters have built-in programming that can communicate with a facility’s EEM system and notify facility managers if a motor is not operating at its expected levels.