“We’re implementing solutions to make whole facilities smarter,” says Lisa Causarano, international account manager at Schneider Electric. As a global powerhouse in energy management and automation, Schneider's equipment is found throughout facilities around the world. However, the company began building its portfolio in energy management projects in vertical farms over the past few years.
In previous interviews, Schneider has identified indoor agriculture as one sector that could heavily contribute to increased electricity consumption in the coming decade. To meet electrical demands while optimizing costs, indoor farms will need to adopt energy-efficient technologies and precise power control and monitoring systems.
Schneider has often explained the advantages of microgrid solutions for vertical farming, with a microgrid consisting of interconnected loads and energy resources as a single controllable entity that can connect and disconnect from the regional grid. Although not feasible in all situations, microgrids allow indoor farms to ensure reliable delivery and reduce costs in the long run.
Schneider has decades of expertise in microgrid solutions and helps its clients find ways to finance this “energy as a service” solution. The company recently hosted a webinar on this same subject that focused on shifting capital expenditures to operating expenditures to spread the cost of microgrid and energy infrastructure over a longer period of time.
Modernization as a service
Aside from microgrids and “energy as a service” solutions, Schneider also provides “modernization as a service” designed to enhance a company’s investment capabilities while modernizing a facility’s assets.
“Indoor farms are reporting high power demand charges, high costs overall, reliability constraints and power quality concerns. We look at where these facilities are, what the current energy scenario is and what types of solutions we can implement,” says Lisa.
Through “modernization as a service” solutions, Schneider can replace obsolete assets with up-to-date digital technology that enables user access to advanced tools and data. While modernization has major benefits for single-entity indoor farms, Lisa also notes that the implementation of energy management systems on an enterprise-level can allow an indoor farming company to compare its power use across multiple facilities and benchmark them against one another.
According to Lisa, newly built facilities can benefit from modernization services as much as retrofitted facilities as both typically lack proper monitoring systems.
“For all of the companies that we talk to, the power distribution and electrical needs are addressed, but there are gaps on the power monitoring side. Some of these massive facilities don’t have a single smart meter in the entire facility,” says Lisa.
Without smart meters and modern monitoring systems, growers have no way of analyzing energy use throughout the building. Schneider also has other solutions which use this data to help growers determine how to best use their energy throughout the day.
Support in navigating funding and regulatory hurdles
To support clients in navigating regulations and financing, Schneider has a government affairs team that actively advocates for a more sustainable, resilient and digitalized energy infrastructure. While there are numerous federal and local grants and funding applicable to agriculture, steps are still needed to extend these programs to urban agriculture and indoor farming.
“We need to change the vernacular and apply these funding opportunities to help customers implement energy and sustainability management solutions sooner rather than later,” Lisa says.
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