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Businesses Can Chart a Course Toward Decarbonization, One Step at a Time

With a wealth of technologies and competing demands across sites, decarbonization can be a complex challenge for companies of all shapes and sizes. Taking a data-centric approach to building an energy roadmap — and letting the data point to what happens next — is key in supporting companies along the way.

The path towards a net-zero global economy demands an “unprecedented transformation” of how energy is produced, transported and used. That’s the view of the International Energy Agency (IEA) — whose roadmap, published last year, set out a cost-effective and economically productive pathway to a world powered by renewables such as solar and wind, rather than fossil fuels. The vision includes a major drive to boost new solar PV installations to 630 gigawatts by 2030, equivalent to installing the world’s current largest solar park every day. It demands wind farm capacity reaching 390 gigawatts. It means increasing energy efficiency by 4 percent a year through 2030, around three times the average over the last two decades.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction activity between now and 2030 is crucial for companies to realize their decarbonization goals — and most will come from technologies readily available today. For companies, cutting GHGs is at the heart of any robust corporate sustainability strategy. Consumers, investors and employees are looking for companies and brands to take action.

However, with a wealth of technology options and competing demands across sites, the journey to net zero can be a complex challenge for companies of all shapes and sizes.

“There’s still a misconception that sustainability is all about installing giant solar panels on your roof or having wind power out in the field next to your manufacturing facility,” says Chris Kaiser, Director of Solution Sales at Shell Energy, who works with companies to improve their energy efficiency. “It is about optimizing the use of clean energy onsite; but it’s about so much more than that,” he adds.

Illuminating solutions at Turnersville AutoMall

About 15 miles south of Philadelphia is the Turnersville AutoMall — a 65-acre campus with nine car dealerships. Run by the Penske Automotive Group, the site includes 300,000 square feet of showrooms, service spaces and offices. There’s even an onsite test track where customers can take cars out for a spin instead of going onto the road. From here, the dealerships sell around 15,000 vehicles a year.

Like many companies of similar size, Turnersville has a significant energy bill and an associated carbon footprint it is working to reduce. Alongside its annual utility bill, the company also faced hefty costs to maintain, service and replace the 79 rooftop HVAC units installed across the campus between 2005 and 2008 to keep workers and customers comfortable all year round.

“The other challenge we face as an industry is the fact that electric vehicle sales are growing,” says Turnersville president Peter Klein. “That wave is coming; and we felt the need to tighten up our current energy footprint and prepare for the significant energy demand from the EVs.”

Enter Shell Energy, which has been working with Klein and the team at Turnersville AutoMall to consider options for the campus — from HVAC and lighting upgrades to solar PV and backup generation, as well. Figuring out what energy solutions would work best for the site, establishing priorities and reducing the energy spend close to zero has been a collaborative process over the last 18 months.

“We had a lot of levers that could be pulled — from the rooftop units to the exterior lighting,” Klein says. “So, we sat down and frankly evaluated the business case for each of the individual elements, looking at the things that could make the quickest improvement. That was identified as the HVAC program.”

Energy data and understanding is crucial

First, an energy management system was installed to collect energy and performance data to help understand the condition of existing HVAC units. This established a business case for phasing them out and moving to higher-efficiency rooftop units. Next, replacing the exterior lights made commercial sense in terms of return on investment and ease of implementation.

“The Shell Energy team brought things to our attention that we hadn’t been focused on,” Klein admitted. “We take care of customers and sell and service vehicles. While we have a good facilities team, HVAC and energy management is not our expertise.”

Taking a data-centric approach to building an energy roadmap — and letting the data point to what happens next — is key in supporting companies such as Penske Automotive. Installing an energy management system, for example, allows organizations to gather data on the performance of facilities and use that data to make informed business decisions.

“In the case of Turnersville, we collected data for about 90 days and came back with some critical information,” Kaiser says. All of the site’s HVAC units were categorized as red, yellow and green: The red ones needed replacing right away; the yellow one had a bit more time and could potentially be repaired; and green ones were okay.

Proving the business case is important for getting internal buy-in from employees and senior managers. But so is explaining how improvements will be made without disruption to business as usual. The operators of the retail businesses onsite, for example, are focused on making sure customers are comfortable every day, especially in extreme temperatures. They needed convincing that the company’s plan to go from 79 aging HVAC units to 79 higher-efficiency, reliable units wouldn’t take assets out of operation preliminarily or prematurely. “There was no pushback when it came to the HVAC process at all,” Klein said.

Big savings and a robust plan to go further

Having a robust plan in place to stage and sequence projects appropriately is hugely important, too. It allows companies to budget correctly year after year and to have a smoother OPEX cycle.

Upgrades already carried out at Turnersville AutoMall campus — including the full exterior lighting replacement and partial HVAC unit upgrade — have so far delivered $45,000 of net savings and 19.2 percent energy saved. This data will prove crucial as Klein and his team carries out further upgrades and will be especially useful as the company prepares for the impact of electric-vehicle charging — for both EV inventory and customer convenience — on its energy costs in the near future. Shell Energy’s data and perspective on the best times of day and days of the week to do charging will help Penske moderate what will be significant increases coming its way in terms of energy usage.

Next up, Turnersville’s energy-improvement roadmap navigates towards installing LED lighting throughout its interior locations.

“We can take customers as far as they want to go — and we have plenty that have net-zero aspirations,” Kaiser says. “But our approach is to sit down, develop a roadmap, and start down a path in a very structured and sequential way. Yes, the sky is the limit. But often, little but impactful projects can help organizations take a huge first step towards meeting sustainability goals.”