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Powered by the sun: how the logistics industry is supporting the growth of solar power

Florida boasts 220 days of sunshine each year, according to JAXUSA Partnership, and the ‘Sunshine State’ is one of the nation’s top solar producing states. So it’s no surprise the state is currently home to 28 solar power plants in operation and six more coming online by the end of 2020.

Opportunities abound. Businesses and other power users can install their own solar energy fields – on a roof, on a retention pond, or in a field. Companies can service the solar industry, making component panels and parts, or handling the transportation and logistics thereof. Transportation companies can even incorporate solar power to help fuel trains, ships, cranes and other assets.

The Jacksonville Port Authority (JAXPORT) is strategically partnering with supply chain service providers, electrical authorities, and others to support the transportation and logistics needs for solar cargo, according to JAXPORT’s Director of Cargo Sales Frank Camp.

“We are seeing a lot of growth and investment in Florida, as well as in Georgia, the Carolinas, and Alabama,” said Camp. He added the region offers plentiful available and affordable contiguous acreage, making North Florida a new hot spot for solar.

JAXPORT’s proximity to this growth has led to an uptick in solar cargo. In 2018, the port handled 5,376 twenty-foot equivalent units (or TEUs, the industry standard for measuring containers) of solar panels and by the end of 2019, that figure had risen to 12,743 TEUs, a 137 percent increase. Camp said volumes remained steady into 2020 with more growth opportunities on the horizon.

As businesses and electric authorities look to grow their use of solar energy, Jacksonville’s transportation and logistics ecosystem is stepping up to help deliver the infrastructure needed, from warehousing space to safely store and deploy modules to the product’s final mile delivery.

The Growth of solar

Florida Power & Light Company, or FPL, is a subsidiary of NextEra Energy, Inc., the world’s largest generator of renewable energy from the wind and sun. FPL serves more than 10 million consumers across the state and its sister company Gulf Power serves almost a half-million more in the Florida Panhandle.

FPL has optimistic solar plans. The company’s “30-by-30” plan aims to make Florida a world leader in solar energy. By 2030, the company plans to install 30 million new solar panels, build 100-plus new solar energy centers, and generate energy that is 67 percent cleaner than the 2005 U.S. electric company average.

An FPL spokesperson said: “Our investments in affordable and clean energy continue to improve the efficiency of our system, reduce fuel consumption and emissions, and help keep costs down for our customers over the long term.”

In addition to the “30-by-30” plan energizing the push for solar in Florida – there is also the Florida Municipal Solar Project, one of the largest municipal-backed solar projects in the United States. The project, led by the Florida Municipal Power Agency (FMPA), will consist of five solar farms across 16 counties throughout the state equipped with approximately 1.5 million solar panels.

Electric authorities are not the only businesses taking advantage of the sun’s power. Warehouses and large buildings in Northeast Florida and beyond are being topped off with solar energy arrays to power operations and reduce businesses’ carbon footprint.

In 2017, IKEA built its 290,000-square-foot Jacksonville store with the ability to produce 2.8 million kilowatts each year. At the time of construction, IKEA’s then U.S. President, Lars Petersson, said IKEA was Florida’s largest non-utility private solar owner at the time – a title the company still holds to this day. Other top global brands are joining IKEA in their investment in solar including Apple, Amazon, Walmart and Target.

Also in Northeast Florida, Aqua Gulf, an asset-based transportation and logistics company that handles refrigerated and dry cargoes, launched its solar initiative. Aqua Gulf equipped its warehouse with a 62,000-square-foot solar array, comprised of 1,795 solar panels capable of generating 2.25 megawatts of power per day.

The company’s investment in solar helps ensure the reliability and resiliency of its facility, including 14,500-square-feet of sensitive temperature-controlled space.

“Since we went live in October 2018, we have generated almost 2 gigawatts (GW) of solar power. We believe strongly that our investment in solar is not only good for the environment but makes good economic sense,” said Aqua Gulf President Sergio Sandrin. “The impact is direct to our bottom line, allowing Aqua Gulf to continue to add to our workforce and will help fuel future expansion in Jacksonville.”

The company’s North Jacksonville facility, near JAXPORT’s Blount Island and Talleyrandmarine terminals, now has regular grid power, solar power, and even a backup 200KW-generator. “We will not go off temperature,” said Scott Fernandez, Vice President of Business Development at Aqua Gulf. “Maintaining cold chain integrity is important.”

Not only is the company’s facility powered by the sun, but Aqua Gulf also handles solar cargo, Fernandez said. Its first shipment of 1,000 pallets arrived in Jacksonville from Turkey, a few years ago, and soon after Aqua Gulf became a hub for receiving, storing and distributing solar cargo throughout Florida and the rest of the country. “Solar project managers routinely choose Aqua Gulf to outsource the full logistics package, from port to project site,” said Fernandez.

He explained the inventory management and delivery process for this cargo is critical. “It is all scheduling, timing and coordination so crews can keep working and avoid delays in the project schedule,” said Fernandez.