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Investing in renewable solutions: short term view versus long term return on investment

Investing in renewable solutions: short term view versus long term return on investment

On Thursday the 8th of February Marshall Fleet Solutions’ Renewables Technical Manager Peter Staines participated in a Cold Chain Federation (CFF) webinar panel. They discussed the latest sustainability initiatives in cold chain and how businesses can implement them successfully. Joining Peter on the panel was Joanne Swift group sustainability manager for The P&M group and national projects sales manager for SSI Schaefer; Ian Merchant. The webinar was hosted by CCF’s own communications manager Liam Challenger.

The group explored subjects such as defining innovation in their respective industries, identifying market obstacles to the cold chain adopting innovative technologies and leveraging data to enhance efficiency and help guide customers in transitioning to more sustainable options.

During the panel discussion on the definitions of innovation and the barriers to cold chain employing new sustainable technologies, it was proposed businesses across the industry often tend to prioritise the short-term cost of implementing sustainable solutions over the long-term return on investment and environmental impact. This point was echoed by P&M’s Joanne Swift who shared one of their case studies: “A cold store had a solid sliding door that was left open for up to 30 minutes three times a day, which resulted in approximately £20,000 annually in energy costs and produced up to 15 tonnes of emissions. Replacing this with a rapid rise door (depending on specifications) would be around a 12 month pay back and then purely profit after that.”

This statement resonated with the panel members and appears to be one of the main barriers to the logistics industry investing in renewable energy and sustainable solutions. To overcome this barrier, we need to understand why so many businesses prioritise the short-term cost over the long-term benefits.

1. Socio-economic factors

A reluctance to invest in sustainable technology could be attributed to the current socio-economic climate. The cost of living and recent confirmation that the UK are in a recession, are influencing short-term decision making with budget cuts and tighter restrictions on “big spends”. While acknowledging the need for businesses to prioritise profitability, it is equally important to strategically invest in sustainable technologies to ensure the longevity and resilience of the industry. Mitigating reliance on finite fossil fuels (known contributors to climate change), not only safeguards organisations against escalating fuel costs but also ensures compliance with stringent environmental regulations. According to the BCG’s Economic Development Report, energy prices remain a top priority for UK business leaders. Therefore, it is no surprise that an increasing number of Marshall Fleet Solutions’ customers are investing in our self-sustaining solar technology, TITAN. TITAN converts solar energy to electricity and stores it in a set lithium batteries mounted on the underside of the trailer. This system then powers the refrigeration unit providing 100% free energy for up to 9 months of the year with the ability to top us using mains charging in between. Peter explained that operators are already developing a better understanding of how to get the most out of the system “For example during the summer time if you know it will be sunny the next day, do not mains charge the batteries so there is adequate storage capacity to harvest the energy you need from the solar rays instead.” Peter continued, “it is my desire to move TITAN on to a point where throughout the year we can run the system purely from solar energy making it fully autonomous.” For business leaders in our sector taking this strategic approach, it secures both short-term viability and long-term sustainability through reducing cost and emissions.

2. Insufficient data on new technology

As new technologies emerge, businesses frequently grapple with identifying the best investment opportunities among an expanding array of choices. The lack of reliable data also poses a challenge, particularly for products in early stages of development. Many leaders understandably prefer to mitigate the risk associated with early adoption, opting to wait for more robust data to validate claims before making investment decisions. This “chicken and egg” dilemma can slow progress of technological advancement. The International Energy Agency reports that 50% of carbon emission reductions will stem from products currently in prototype or demonstration stages. Embracing early-stage technologies requires an early adopter mindset, marked by a readiness to take risks and embrace change. This mindset is vital as companies strive to balance sustainability, risk, and profitability.

Peter stressed the importance of capturing usable data on TITAN as an excellent example. Launched in late 2021, Marshall has used the data collected to refine and improve the product, resulting in the powerful system we install today. When our customers invest in this technology, it enables us to gather and leverage data, empowering the innovative minds behind our sustainable products to enhance their capabilities. Without organisations willing to collaborate with developers to test and collect performance data, innovative technologies may face challenges gaining market traction.

3. Immature infrastructure

As the need to decarbonise the cold chain intensifies, the transport logistics sector emerges as one of the major contributors to global emissions. The reliance on hydrocarbon vehicles and refrigeration units adds to the sector's carbon footprint, necessitating a shift towards solar, electric, and other sustainable fuel alternatives. However, the logistical challenge of keeping up with the needs of operators looking to invest in sustainable technology requires a comprehensive evaluation of the infrastructure and battery technology available keep their vehicles on the road.

Energy companies are responding by implementing ultra-fast charging stations, slashing battery idle times by charging to full capacity within minutes, while concurrently fortifying the battery supply chain. Production of Lithium-ion batteries, the cornerstone of alternative power, requires meticulous attention to raw material sourcing—cobalt, graphite, and steel—as many are produced by external manufacturers potentially lacking responsible sourcing mandates.

Alternative fuels as a viable stepping stone

As the industry navigates this transformative period, strategic foresight and investment are vital to effectively transition towards a sustainable and efficient cold chain logistics ecosystem. However, if the socio-economic factors, lack of data about performance of emerging technology and immature infrastructure are barriers for operators, switching to alternative fuels is a low risk stepping stone towards becoming more sustainable.

With the Government aiming for an up to 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, the demand for sustainable fuels is at an all-time high. At MFS, we're proud to offer HVO, a fossil-free, paraffinic fuel derived entirely from renewable sources. This innovative fuel, produced from waste fats and vegetable oils through hydrogenation, provides a more sustainable option for diesel-powered vehicles and industrial generators. HVO surpasses traditional diesel and biodiesel (FAME) in cleanliness and performance, meeting stringent standards like EN15940 & ASTM D97 5. Notably, it maintains its quality over time and remains effective in extreme temperatures. As a drop-in replacement for Gas Oil/Red Diesel, HVO offers a seamless transition to greener logistics and cold chain operations without compromising efficiency or reliability.

For more interesting insights into the world of refrigeration sustainability explore it first-hand in this webinar which is available to watch in full on the Cold Chain Federation website: