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Behind Lineage’s innovative solar plus ‘linear generator’ installation

Mainspring Lineage solar array

PowerFlex completed a 3.3-megawatt solar array and Mainspring Energy installed 460 kilowatt-hours of linear generators in Lineage’s Colton facility to produce 100 percent of its energy consumption on-site. Image courtesy of Lineage Logistics

As the world’s largest temperature-controlled industrial real estate investment trust and logistics solutions provider, Lineage Logistics manages a global network of 400 facilities with more than 2 billion cubic feet of capacity across 19 countries in North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific.

The company is a key player in California’s vital food corridor supply system, providing cold storage for food destined for locations across the entire coastal area of the state.

Proper cold storage for food requires tremendous energy expenditure — energy that conventionally relies on enormous amounts of carbon-based fuels. However, as a signatory to The Climate Pledge — under which it has committed to achieving net-zero carbon by 2040 — Lineage is transitioning to more sustainable cold storage.

To that end, the company in late 2021 announced a partnership with PowerFlex, a national renewable energy infrastructure provider, to install a 3.3-megawatt solar array at its Colton Agua Mansa, California, facility. The array is paired with 460 kilowatts in capacity of two linear generators developed by Mainspring Energy.

Unlike engines or fuel cells, linear generators use a low-temperature reaction of fuel and air to convert motion directly into electricity through either chemical or thermal energy. Units can ramp usage up or down to maximize the efficiency of a building’s solar array, thereby generating optimal renewable power use and ensuring reliability. The result is both reduced grid dependency and lower operating costs. The combination allows the Colton facility to become the first within the company’s network to generate 100 percent of its energy consumption onsite, according Jesse Tootell, senior manager of energy analytics for Lineage.

We want to make sure that we're doing our part to operate responsibly, with the lowest amount of energy possible and embracing new technologies.

“Our [main] operation at this site is cold storage, which uses a lot of energy. The buildings, infrastructure and the refrigeration system are using anywhere between 60 to 80 percent of the energy [generated]  onsite. Between these two sources, solar and Mainspring, we can now generate more energy in a given year than we are going to use that year. So, we're net producing energy, which is exciting,” Tootell said.

The Colton installation is among the first of its kind to integrate a linear generator with solar panels, and the first facility in the world with two linear generators. The installation includes  8,426 individual solar panels that will generate an estimated 5.4 million kilowatt-hours of clean energy annually. 

“Typical generation types and an alternative for an onsite generation to solar and Mainspring would be something like a diesel generator;  a less efficient natural gas generator. Wind is your other alternative if you have enough land,” Tootell said.

The Colton site, the second largest in Lineage’s network of temperature-controlled warehouses, was selected for this innovative installation because its location and its size enhanced the potential economic viability for this type of project, Tootell said.

“We consider them economic return projects. They pay for themselves in a reasonable timeframe. This particular site is in Southern California. There's a ton of sun. So solar projects pencil very well. And it was also a relatively large and new site, which minimizes any other complications that you might have trying new technologies like this,” Tootell said.

With its installation powered by solar energy and Mainspring’s linear generators, the Colton plant is exempt from many of the restrictions imposed by southern California’s strict emissions regulations, unlike operations that rely on more conventional power sources, Tootell said.

“In California, diesel is considered too dirty a burning fuel to be used as a consistent power source. You would typically be using it to offset peak demand charges. Mainspring is certified to operate 24/7 in that district, which diesel generators are not. And so that actually helped us step around obstacles that we traditionally have for onsite generation projects,” Tootell said.

The Climate Pledge, co-founded by Amazon and Global Optimism, is comprised of a collection of more than 200 companies that have agreed to address the climate crisis, with a shared goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 — a decade ahead of the Paris Agreement. As part of its commitment to the Climate Pledge, Lineage has pledged to annual measurement and reporting of greenhouse gas emissions by its operations. The company is also implementing decarbonization strategies such as enhanced energy efficiency, transition to renewable energy sources and materials reduction — also in line with the Paris Agreement.

“I want to emphasize how excited we are about our energy initiatives. We have a really large portfolio, a global portfolio in many different countries. That comes with the potential to have a global impact in terms of our energy usage. And it's a really exciting opportunity for us. We want to make sure that we're doing our part to operate responsibly, with the lowest amount of energy possible and embracing new technologies,” Tootell said.

Lineage Logistics Colton facility

Lineage Logistics’ Agua Mansa facility in Colton, California. Image courtesy of Lineage Logistics

The Colton facility represents a template for similar installations in the future, Tootell said.

“Our goal is to scale this type of technology and this approach to as many sites as we can. That's part of the ongoing commitment [to] achieving the 2040 climate pledge goals, way ahead of schedule, ideally. We have plans to produce solar all over the portfolio. It works and it is scalable. And so that's the best-case scenario for us, something that makes it really promising to deploy elsewhere in the future. We want to put it everywhere it makes sense,” Tootell said.

While the Colton plant incorporates new technology, this is not Lineage’s first venture into rethinking its operating procedures.

Since 2019, the company has employed artificial intelligence throughout its entire network of cold storage facilities to maintain consistent temperatures while reducing overall energy consumption. Lineage was recognized that year for this innovation with a Better Practices award for energy efficiency by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Plants Program.

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