Making a place in the sun

Green projects
A lot has actually changed over the last few years. With the rising price of energy, the returns to be made on investing in solar panels could be achieved within just a few years. Such installations are now not just worn as badges to show off a company’s environmentally-friendly credentials (even though they are always happy to advertise such virtues) – it’s also very profitable to have them up-and-running.

Starting off micro-small

Last November, international courier DHL Express announced that it was to install solar panels in all of its logistics centres in Poland. “We are currently studying the technological solutions required for each of our locations. The first solar panels have been installed in Koszalin, but this year we are planning such changes in three other centres,” reveals Agnieszka Łukawczyk, the operations director of DHL Express.

Since DHL Express provides international air deliveries, what consumes the most electricity (as is the case for any other company in this segment) is the technical machinery and especially the sorters. “Last year, we also added electric courier vehicles to our fleet, which have also increased our internal demand for energy. When you consider that we are currently in the process of building up our e-vehicle fleet and that this year more e-vans will be added to DHL Express’ fleet in different regions of the country, then installing more solar panelling is quite simply a necessity,” she explains. The company’s intention is for its entire fleet to be electric by 2030. “And solar panels will be used to power our e-vans,” insists Agnieszka Łukawczyk.

DHL Express recently announced that it would be building micro installations, or installations that generate up to 50 KW. The company has already installed this system in its logistics centres in Łódź and Toruń (with 110 modules in each location). In smaller centres, micro-installations and sunny weather are enough to cover the building’s entire energy budget, while for larger facilities the system is capable providing 50 pct of their energy needs. “The entire project is aimed at reducing energy bills by 40–50 pct. The current investment plan is to modernise the properties we already have, but we are also looking to the future and are installing PV cells on all our newly-built facilities. We encourage landlords to make this energy switch,” says Agnieszka Łukawczyk. For other centres, these changes could be implemented this year.

The company is investing both in roof and ground-based installations on the sites of their logistics centres. “The kind of installation that’s used is determined individually for each centre. If we have a suitable site and the necessary approvals, then the installations are ground-based. When we draw up a solar panel investment plan, we consider all the spots where it’s possible to install the panels, which is mainly determined by legal issues as well as infrastructure related questions – such as how the building is constructed and whether land is available on the site,” explains DHL’s director.

Greener than green

Polish warehouse developer MLP Group has recently launched an interesting project on a much larger scale. At the beginning of the year, the group announced that it was starting work on mounting solar panels on the roofs of all its parks. By this August, panels will have been installed with a combined capacity of 5.8 MW. Together with those that have already been set up in the company’s parks, this will bring their combined capacity up to 6.3 MW, enabling app. 6 GWh of electricity to be generated each year. They are only going to be roof installations, to give the panels the best, shadow-free access to the sun. You might wonder why MLP Group has the ambition of generating around 6 GWh of electricity every year. “The scale of the installations has been planned based on our calculations of what the tenants in our parks need. We are assuming that 95 pct of the electricity we generate is to be used by our tenants. Only on those days when there is less demand, such as at weekends, will we sell off the excess electricity to the mains supplier,” says Marcin Dobieszewski, the property management director of MLP Group.

The company has also revealed that as their parks grow in size, so will the installations – as there has been continuous growth in the demand for electricity in MLP parks. “If you look at just our electric charging stations, we have been installing more and more of them, and there can be around 14 to 16 stations in just one centre. A revolution that no one saw coming is taking place,” insists Marcin Dobieszewski.

At a rough estimate, with today’s cost of electricity (the PLN per MWh as well as the distribution costs) and the current price for a PV installation (around PLN 3,000 per kWp or ‘kilowatt peak’), an investment in solar panels could break even in less than four years. More importantly, investing in solar panels is not only of benefit to the developer, but also to the tenant. “Cheaper electricity is an important factor in attracting new tenants to our parks. And our business goal has always been to please our clients,” Marcin Dobieszewski points out. During the time it takes to recoup the investment outlay, the company plans to sell the electricity at a price that is 5–10 pct cheaper than the market rate. This will delay the break-even point, but it will also make MLP’s parks more competitive. “Once we have reached the break-even point we will be free to set our prices how we like and will negotiate this with each of our tenants on an individual basis. We estimate savings of around 20 pct will be made by our clients after the break-even point,” explains Marcin Dobieszewski.

Solar farms on the roof

But MLP Group has even more ambitious plans than this. It is not only looking to supply its tenants with cheap electricity in the future, but also intends to install larger solar farms on its roofs and sell the green energy back to the central grid. “Generating green electricity is not a primary business line for MLP Group, but nothing is stopping us from creating little power stations of our own that generate electricity that is not just for the needs of our tenants. Solar farms that sell electricity back to the grid enhance the profitability of the entire project,” points out Marcin Dobieszewski. As early as 2023, MLP Group intends to have increased the power output of the roofs of its parks to 14 MW. “During this time, our clients’ demand is certain to rise to 8 MW, which means that the excess of 5 or maybe 6 GWh will be sold back to the grid,” he predicts.

MLP Group could certainly install even more generating capacity on the roofs of its parks, but has opted to limit itself to 14 MW after making a careful calculation. “We estimate that using the technology currently available, solar panels will take up around 30–40 pct of each roof. We don’t want any problems clearing snow off them and cleaning them twice a year. Such a generating capacity for our modules means that we are not burdening ourselves with any unnecessary risks in terms of the amount of electricity we sell back to the grid or regarding the structure of the roofs,” explains Marcin Dobieszewski.

The developer also has the advantage of the fact that most of its tenants are logistics operators, who while they normally need to rent large areas, their demand for electricity is not as high as for production companies. With logistics firms having such large areas leased and relatively low electricity requirements, the owners of their buildings have large amounts of roof space that they can put to highly profitable use by generating electricity.