When fleets speak of going green, they often implement any number of techniques, from reducing idling, to alternative fuels, and everything in-between. But fleets also have other alternatives they can implement that will reduce their carbon footprint and costs just as much, if not more. And one of those alternatives is as clear as day — or at least dependent on a clear day.
The sun has always represented a potential power source for businesses, and for many years homeowners and others have harnessed that power to convert solar rays into heat and water. More and more businesses, though, are turning to the sun to supply power for their operations.
A. Duie Pyle, a West Chester, PA, transportation services provider with 17 service centers, has installed 4,464 flat solar panels on its Parkesburg, PA, facility.
“Building a solar farm or harvesting the sun has been something we've been talking about for three years,” says Timothy Koch, director of purchasing and facilities for the third-generation, family-owned business. “A year ago we made the decision on Parkesburg. There were some decent incentives that made it worthwhile.”
According to Koch, the 570,000-sq.-ft. facility runs entirely on solar power during the day. Any excess electricity produced is sent back to the grid.
The solar panels were installed by MainLine Solar of West Chester, and the facility was officially operating on solar electricity in March.
“Since March, we can tell we'll generate one megawatt of electricity, which is enough to power the building [for a year],” Koch says, pointing out that the facility is classified as a “virtual net meter reading” facility by utility provider PECO. That means that at the end of the year, the electricity it produces offsets any electricity it uses, Koch says.
The system is designed to use the electricity it generates from the solar panels and then pull from the electric grid to supplement what is needed, Koch says, oftentimes only at night. Before installation, Pyle was paying between $12,000 and $13,000 in an average month for electricity for the Parkesburg facility. Since installation, the monthly bill has been “in the hundreds” of dollars.
In addition to the electricity they generate, the panels also provide a means for additional revenue. Taking advantage of a Pennsylvania energy program, Pyle is able to sell “energy credits” for each 1,000 kilowatt hours of energy produced. The credits are currently selling for about $100, down from about $300 per credit last year. The utility offers the credits to encourage businesses to generate their own electricity.
The choice of MainLine Solar, a local start-up company, was a bit of a leap of faith for Pyle, a diversified company offering less-than-truckload, truckload, specialized truckload services and warehousing and distribution services with nearly 800 tractors and about 1,800 trailers.
“We like to do business with local companies,” Koch points out. “At some point, [Pyle's founders] were given an opportunity and we thought it was time to give another family business that opportunity. We are very happy with the solar system.”
Koch estimates the system to last 25 years with a seven to eight year return on investment. Initial estimates had the payback time in as little as three years, but the decline in the price of the energy credits has extended that timeline, Koch says.
“We absolutely made the right long-term decision,” he says, “which if you're a family business, you can think long term.”
Pyle also implements green initiatives in other aspects of its business. Engine idling control, recycling and waste reduction of motor oil and tires, energy-efficient lighting and other organizational changes, including making changes to copy machines so that double-sided printing is automatic, are among the programs the company employs. Even the IT department has gotten into the act, helping more than 200 customers to date convert to a paperless EDI system.