WDP wants to use warehouses as ‘powerhouses’ for electric mobility

02/11/2022 — minutes reading time
Elke Van Den Broucke

Warehouses with solar roofs are powerhouses not only in terms of setting up sustainable logistics activities, but also for rolling out green means of transport, such as electric trucks. That’s why WDP has launched a pilot project to develop a ‘Green Mobility Hub’ at one of its existing sites. The company will also significantly expand its solar park. “Together, the two initiatives require an investment of more than 40 million euros,” says Elke Van Den Broucke, WDP’s Head of Energy & Sustainability since early 2022.

As part of its 2022–25 growth plan, WDP aims to keep scaling up its ‘Energy-as-a-Business’ activities and expand them into a separate business line. These future projects in energy and sustainability are being driven internally by the WDP Energy & Sustainability team. This includes the development of business models, innovation and operational implementation.

“WDP is really convinced of the crucial role that a warehouse site can play in the decarbonisation of its client’s supply chain,” Van Den Broucke explains. “That’s why we’ve joined forces with one of our tenants – VPD, a distribution company in Zellik – to develop a pilot project to create the first Green Mobility Hub.”

From this site, VPD handles last-mile activities for a range of non-food retailers. They expect that services in their supply chain will increasingly be provided in a carbon-neutral way. For that reason, Dirk Van Peteghem’s company has become a pioneer in the area of electric distribution: earlier this year, it was in the news for being the first logistics service provider in Belgium to place an order with Volta Trucks. Volta manufactures electric trucks based on a totally new concept. VPD will start operating the first of its new trucks in the first half of 2023.

WDP will take care of the energy production and infrastructure required for the decarbonisation of VPD’s transport and on-site activities. The entire roof of the building will be fitted with a PV system, which will be combined with a static battery and electric charge points for passenger cars, delivery vans and lorries, for both inbound and outbound goods transport. In addition, the energy consumption of the existing offices will be decarbonised through the installation of a heat pump to replace the gas heating system.

VPD pilot project

“Work has begun, and the equipment has been ordered,” says Van Den Broucke. “All going well, this first Green Mobility Hub will be delivered in June 2023. This pilot project is very important to us, because it’s the first time that a complete concept is being realised and the different aspects and objectives are being tested in the real world, with the focus remaining firmly on profitability.”

After this project, WDP will carry out other pilots – some smaller, some larger. “We’d like to use the knowledge and experience we gain to develop a scalable model. It should be ready within two years. Then not only will we have the necessary know-how, we’ll also have concrete figures. That will help us to convince more clients. Because, at the moment, most of them are very reluctant.”

Learning process

The pilot project will play an important role in the learning process, as Van Den Broucke explains. “In the case of VPD, their electric trucks will be on the road all year round – mainly in the daytime – with the batteries being charged at night, whereas solar panels generate electricity during the day, and produce less in winter. That’s why static batteries are required, not only to charge the trucks’ batteries at night, but also to provide extra capacity for fast chargers. When several vehicles are being charged at once, fast chargers require greater peak capacity than the current connection allows, which puts a strain on the distribution network.”

At the Zellik site, WDP will provide 27 charge points: slow ones for cars and delivery vans, and fast chargers for the Volta trucks and other electric lorries. “Fortunately, VPD has a staged replacement plan; it’s not going to replace all of its lorries with electric vehicles overnight. This will keep the learning process and adoption curve manageable. VPD will also be actively involved in the learning process, so it can decide when additional charge points are necessary and can provide feedback on the use of its existing chargers.”

Battery value-stacking

Another important part of that learning process is ‘battery value-stacking’. Value-stacking is defined as the bundling of multiple value streams that determine the profitability of a static battery, such as local use for the charge points combined with balancing services on the public grid. Or to put it another way: combining the different applications of batteries for different customers at seperate times. The batteries must therefore have sufficient capacity – including for fast chargers.

“One advantage of batteries is that they can reduce the off-take from the grid (or injection) when they are used to achieve a better fit between the electricity produced by solar panels and consumption by fast chargers. More local consumption of solar energy by the charge points results in less injection and also reduces the load on the grid. Conversely, the battery will ensure that the charge points can use more solar energy, and thus less electricity from the grid, which will also reduce the load. In other words, it works in two directions.”

As Van Den Broucke explains, energy trading and the regulations around it also have to be included in this balancing exercise.

Sharing energy

That aspect is not unimportant. As shown by VIL’s Logigrid project, at the moment it is still very difficult for a company to sell its excess green electricity to a neighbouring company that has a shortage, or even to exchange electricity. In the residential sector, peer-to-peer exchanges have been permitted since the start of this year, but in the business sector it is still extremely difficult.

“But not impossible,” says Van Den Broucke. “At the moment, there’s a lot of movement in this area, at both the local and the European level. As an owner of multiple properties, WDP wants to fully embrace energy sharing between buildings or with its tenants. The exact mechanisms to realise this – such as a CPPA (Corporate Power Purchase Agreement, a purchase and supply agreement between two parties) – are not yet fully developed, or ready to be applied to a logistics park with multiple companies. The European legislation to make energy sharing easier is along the right lines, but we’re still waiting for it to be transposed into Belgian and regional legislation.”

Big ambitions

The Green Mobility Hub is part of WDP’s broader strategy for renewable energy. Scaling up capacity by installing solar panels on logistics buildings is one of the drivers of its Climate Action Plan. Indeed, WDP is aiming to increase its energy capacity from solar panels to 250 MWp by 2025. During 2022, it began preparations and installation of around 55 MWp. In the course of 2023, that will bring green energy production to a total capacity of around 150 MWp, an increase of 60% from the start of the year. This level of capacity corresponds to the annual energy consumption of 40,000 households.

Nearly half of the solar energy capacity in WDP’s current plans will be generated at a single site, namely on the roof of the multimodal logistics park WDPort of Ghent, which is currently under construction. The roof will be home to a solar park with a surface area of up to 150,000 m2, which will generate 25 MWp of green energy.