Using Smarter Energy Management to Combat Climate Change


Editor’s Note: This is the first post of a three-part series in partnership with Schneider Electric (SE). It includes information derived from an interview between Agritecture and members of the SE team: Travis Graham, Global Business Development - Lifescience; Lisa Causarano, International Account Manager; and David Davis, Client Development Manager - Sustainability & Efficiency Services.

“At some point in our not-so-distant future, vertical farming and CEA will be a critical way in which we feed the world.” - Lisa Causarano.

With billions of dollars now being invested into controlled environment agriculture facilities around the world, CEA-grown salad greens can already be found at thousands of local supermarkets – and it’s easy to envision a future where “indoor-grown” becomes the norm for these products.

It’s also easy to be swept up by the excitement around CEA’s rapid growth and forget about the nascency of the industry. With much of the market feeling urgency to build more farms and expand sales, conversations about operational improvements, sustainability gains, and resiliency plans often get pushed to the side. And energy is the string that ties these all together.

“The vertical farming and CEA markets are still relatively new,” explains Travis Graham. “Businesses started out by just growing a bunch of plants and building out these facilities without any specific energy management strategy.”

Isolated from the elements of the outdoors, indoor-grown plants need everything from artificial lighting for photosynthesis, to climate control systems for optimizing growing conditions, to recirculating water systems with added nutrients for healthy plant growth. And to produce these plants more cost competitively, indoor farms often employ automation to replace manual labor for certain tasks. All of these functions draw energy – and lots of it.

Between these steep energy costs and healthy skepticism aimed at the industry over certain sustainability claims, many farms are “now recognizing that focusing on sustainability, especially energy, is critical to their operations if they intend to be effective, efficient, and profitable.”

But decarbonizing the industry or making it carbon-neutral isn’t easy. Even experienced entrepreneurs need the support of trusted energy advisors.

Introducing global specialist in energy management, automation, and digital transformation, Schneider Electric (SE). 

David Davis puts it this way: while vertical farmers are “growing experts,” Schneider Electric is a “infrastructure, business, and sustainability expert.” With 180+ years of innovation under their belt, the multinational firm has the knowledge and tools to help forward-thinking entrepreneurs and businesses make this leap to a more sustainable agricultural future.

As a leader in energy management and automation solutions, it’s evident to the team where the problem lies: “energy makes up a considerable part of the operational costs. Even though this part of the operation is [often] being monitored, current systems not being open and connected make the monitoring and correlating of data very difficult.”

With almost a decade’s worth of experience in renewable energy and sustainability services, Davis shares that “a lot of it has to do with having the data to make informed decisions - one needs to identify the KPIs that are important, and track them.” 

Named the “world’s most sustainable organization” in Corporate Knights' 2021 Global 100 ranking, the SE team found it hard to sit back and ignore this opportunity to help revolutionize the food system. 

Here’s where SE’s Climate Change Advisory Services come in…
“To lead in the climate crisis means factoring climate risk into business strategy,” says Davis.

Graham shares that “this is a long-term journey started decades ago. SE recognized the need to develop a roadmap to ensure our current goal of being carbon neutral by 2040. This could not be done without having a consistent and focused strategy.”

Similarly, players across the CEA industry — farmers, entrepreneurs, investors, and suppliers — need to look at the system holistically from beginning to end. 

Causarano highlights that “ultimately, companies need to find a solution for that puzzle piece [energy] in order to become carbon neutral. But that's not the only component. That’s why we want to broaden the discussion and understand what companies are doing now and what they intend to do, in order to envision what their sustainability journey looks like.”

Schneider Electric’s three-part journey to integrating sustainability successfully within any business – CEA or otherwise – looks something like this:

  1. Reduce energy waste through digitization.

  2. Replace fossil fuel energy with zero-carbon electricity.

  3. Finally – and this is the most challenging part – engage your value chain to do the same.

To ensure industry-wide change, Davis has found that “transparency and accountability are the keys to success. We tell customers to align their ESG targets with industry-leading standards, share them with the public, and publish regular updates on their progress.”

“We are helping companies deliver on their climate pledges, while reducing costs, and improving efficiency at the same time.” - David Davis

This is why SE’s Climate Change Advisory Services employ a holistic four-step approach to enable this: define success, set targets, deploy the program, and sustain the results. 

This all-inclusive approach is only one of the numerous ways SE aims to transform the CEA industry. Graham shares how the company has “introduced sustainability into all parts of our supply chain. We created a Green Premium sustainability program that provides our customers with healthier products and adds transparency to environmental and regulatory information to deliver valuable sustainable performance.”

Davis adds that “Resource Advisor, an EcoStruxture solution from Schneider Electric, is a secure, cloud-based software platform that allows you to see, measure, and manage energy and sustainability initiatives across your entire enterprise.”

Schneider Electric sees the CEA industry as one that will have a significant impact on the future of food in the world. The experiences and solutions we have proven with industries like data centers and industrial manufacturing will help the CEA industry to be effective and efficient much sooner.
— Travis Graham


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