Building a Green Warehouse

Implementing the right design and management strategies can cut operational costs, anticipate stricter energy-efficiency regulations and attract good tenants.

Ksenia Agapova,
Sustainability Manager,
Jones Lang LaSalle, Russia & CIS

The growth of the retail and distribution sectors over recent years has led to the construction of many large, single-story distribution warehouses in the Moscow region, St. Petersburg and a few other major cities in Russia. Virtually all of these buildings are steel-framed and clad with structural insulated panel envelope systems.

The so-called "shed" sector, which includes such buildings, is now one of the most efficient and successful in Russian construction and is predicted to grow further over the next five years. This sector attracts the best project teams, who realize that it is not enough to just talk green.

The first BREEAM- and LEED-certified industrial buildings are starting to emerge in Russia. Building green warehouses not only allows companies to meet increasingly strict energy-efficiency regulations, but also to attract good tenants. A variety of approaches to the design and management of warehouses can improve energy efficiency and reduce running costs.

Why go green?

Currently, incentives are mainly focused on improving operational energy efficiency and achieving high BREEAM or LEED ratings.

In 2009, the Russian government set an ambitious and legally binding target to improve national energy efficiency by 40 percent by 2020 as compared to a 1990 baseline. The operation of buildings currently accounts for about half of Russia's energy consumption, and significant improvement in the performance of new and existing buildings is required if the target is to be met.

Beginning in January 2012, all buildings with an energy bill of more than 10 million rubles ($330,000) are required to have energy passports. At the moment, however, the officially approved form of these passports remains unknown.

Moreover, an order issued by the Regional Development Ministry in 2010 sets ambitious targets for all nonresidential buildings to increase energy efficiency by 15 percent every five years starting in 2011. But these targets only apply to the energy consumed by heating and ventilation systems; other energy uses are not regulated. The system lacks explicit mechanisms for energy control and monitoring. Yet despite its undeveloped state, it could be seen as a future concern for property owners.

Clearly, regulation has an important role to play in improving the energy efficiency of warehouse buildings, but increasingly developers and owner-occupiers of industrial buildings are also coming to understand the commercial benefits that sustainability can bring. These include lower operational costs, insurance against more onerous regulations and increased energy prices in the future, and the ability to attract good tenants.

The last of these is key for today's green warehouse pioneers. Sustainable warehouse construction is an established trend in all developed countries, and major warehouse developers have committed to green building certification. For instance, ProLogis announced as far back as 2008 that it would register each building with the USGBC to be considered for LEED certification, the U.S. national standard for environmentally responsible construction.

The reason to adopt such a policy is that certified buildings provide multinational tenants with distribution-facility options that further their own sustainability agendas. International retailers and logistic companies operating under corporate sustainable purchasing policies expect to work out of the same type of facilities in emerging markets.

In Russia, certification holds further importance as an indicator of building quality on the local market, where there is no clear definition of Class A warehouse facilities.

Costs and concerns

The operational energy consumption of warehouse buildings varies greatly depending on their function. Warehouses that provide cold storage usually require more energy than those where significant temperature variations can be tolerated.

Similarly, warehouses that also house manufacturing or retail units such as hardware shops will require more energy than storage buildings. Manufacturing uses energy but also emits heat that can reduce the energy required for space heating. Retail units need more lighting and often have tighter temperature controls than storage and distribution facilities.

Typically, hot and cold water consumption per square meter of a warehouse facility is relatively low compared with office or retail spaces due to its large operational areas that do not require water use. However, administrative facilities in warehouses usually have showers and changing rooms that require a lot of water. Irrigation requirements are typically minimal due to simple landscaping. Investment in expensive drip-irrigation systems would likely be ineffective given the simple landscaping, but rainwater harvesting and gray-water utilization could be considered.

As waste can become a significant cost for distribution centers, separate waste collection has a lot of potential in the warehouse sector. Waste generated at a warehouse facility typically includes packaging and pallets, or cardboard and wood. A significant amount of this waste can be removed by the recycling companies that are starting to emerge in the Moscow and St. Petersburg regions. A facility usually has to produce at least 1 ton of recyclable waste to arrange collection for free. Adding a special place for waste accumulation cannot only improve environmental performance, but also reduce waste removal costs by 70 to 80 percent.

Strategies to improve performance

Energy-efficient lighting

Payback periods for energy efficiency measures range from half-a-year for automated controls to 25 years for renewable energy technologies.

Lighting is the most significant energy consumer in warehouses, accounting for around three-quarters of total consumption. Efficient lighting systems coupled with optimum roof-light design are key to delivering operational energy savings. The complexity of the interaction between the roof-light design, lighting systems, daylight dimming and storage racking in warehouse buildings requires careful consideration during the design stages and, if possible, detailed dynamic thermal simulations.

Adding to the complexity of the system is the fact that international standards typically require significant levels of lighting automation — up to 90 percent of the total gross floor area. If designed properly, daylight and occupancy sensors have the fastest payback periods compared with other energy-efficiency measures, up to 0.5 percent per year.

Envelope efficiency and heat distribution

Building using structural insulated panels has proven its efficiency not only in terms of construction periods, but also energy reduction. Increasing the insulation layer by 20 to 30 percent can reduce heating energy needs and help to implement free-cooling strategies in the summer through thermal mass effect, whereby the building resists temperature changes. Evidence exists that this strategy works effectively in the Moscow region even through the hottest summer months.

It is also worth mentioning that the indoor environmental requirements for warehouses are relatively relaxed compared with those for office facilities, which makes free-cooling strategies even more attractive.

Heat distribution methods contribute greatly to a building's energy efficiency. The most common of these methods include air-distribution systems and water heating for the office space in a warehouse. Air distribution for a high volume of operational area (typically 8- to 12-meter ceiling heights) seems an unreasonable waste of resources when covering only the 2 meters above the floor should maintain a certain level of temperature control. Underfloor heating systems (using water pipes) can also reduce energy use. Typical savings from heating only the first 2 meters of space above the floor can be up to 40 percent of heating demand.

Climate control in office parts

Offices require higher levels of comfort and therefore more control over operating temperatures, which is why localized climatic systems are recommended. Window design for an abundance of daylight and comfortable natural ventilation could be beneficial for increasing productivity, as well as reducing energy consumption. For instance, providing separate levels of window-opening control can change how often occupants use them for ventilation.

When designing climate control systems, engineers should keep in mind that a smoking ban and utilization of low-emission paints and varnishes could reduce the ventilation rates needed and contribute to the systems' efficiency.

Energy management

It is useful to remember that if you cannot measure, you cannot improve. Installing an energy submetering system can help the operating team define the largest energy consumers and identify system failures. It is usually good practice in facility management in Russia to measure and record monthly energy consumption; specialized systems enabling automated monitoring and record-keeping reduce managerial efforts and can help to draw a better picture of energy consumption. Energy management typically accounts for 20 to 30 percent of energy savings.

New technologies

The amount of renewable energy technology available in Russia is not significant — in 2011, renewable energy accounted for less than 1 percent of all energy generated in Russia, excluding hydropower — but is increasing rapidly. The most common technologies include heat pumps, solar panels and biogas energy systems. While biogas technology might be ineffective for a typical storage warehouse (due to the small amounts of biological waste generated there), and heat pumps are not sufficient for effective heating strategies, solar panel technology can be utilized due to the large roof space available.

However, this technology requires additional expenditures, not only on the equipment itself, but also on strengthening the structure for increased loads. This measure is predicted to incur an increased capital cost of 19 percent with a payback period of 25 years.

Feasibility studies

Before any of the solutions described above can be implemented, the economic viability of each should be checked and payback periods calculated. For instance, when conducting a feasibility study on renewable energy technologies, the life-cycle cost should be assessed using a simple net present value (NPV) calculation. The NPV should be calculated based on the expected maintenance, operational and component replacement requirements over a 25-year period. This represents the maximum likely life cycle, after which full asset replacement would have to be considered for the LZC technologies analyzed.

Payback periods for energy efficiency measures range from half a year for automated controls to three to four years for energy efficient lighting to 20 to 25 years for renewable energy technologies.