How logistics facilities can evolve to meet our big challenges

logistics facilities

Tobias Kassner outlines eight ways logistics facilities can contribute to solving the challenges of our times.

Recent years have demonstrated the urgent need to use our resources more sustainably. And logistics properties are ideal assets to be imaginatively redeveloped to take on additional roles. But what sort of visionary new functions are we talking about?

1. Distribution
Lifeline of the economy Naturally, goods distribution remains the core purpose of logistics real estate, with various drivers increasing demand for it.

2. Ample solar power to fuel the energy transition
Roofs and facades of logistics assets offer enormous potential for photovoltaics. In fact, the growing relevance of energy transition will mean PV systems become a standard feature.

3. Adding wind turbines can turns logistics properties into power plants
Wind power has barely featured on logistics properties so far. But given their long, tall sides, warehouses could double as power plants. Their facades generate updrafts that innovative roller systems can convert into electricity. Mounted on roof edges, these generators will not interfere with roof-mounted PV systems.

4. Battery storage
Solving the base-load dilemma Switching entirely to renewables presupposes a solution to the base load problem. After all, wind and sun are not available for power generation around the clock. But battery storage can bridge the gap. Moreover, it lets renewable power generation operate at capacity without regard for actual grid demand. Local storage of excess energy also eliminates transmission losses.

5. Hydrogen production
Ideal for implementing the ‘green deal’ Corporates and lawmakers seek to make manufacturing sustainable. Green hydrogen offers significant leverage to achieve this. However, the production of hydrogen requires plenty of energy while also generating waste heat. Future HGV fleets will largely be powered by fuel cells. Logistics properties thus present an opportunity to combine power generation with hydrogen production, not least for onsite consumers.

6. Logistics facilities could host cell towers to plug broadband cable gaps
In the medium term, goods distribution will operate autonomously. But this sort of mobility relies heavily on data, with Germany barely ready to provide the required bandwidth. Its fibre-optic network has been slow to expand because of the costly underground engineering involved. The nationwide expansion of mobile wireless networks has been faster and more effective, limited only by a lack of suitable cell-tower locations. Logistics properties could help to optimise connectivity for undersupplied areas via roof-mounted base transceiver stations.

7. Logistics facilities turned data centres
The need for data centres has grown apace with increasing demand for video telephony and streaming services. Data centres occupy plots that are very similar to those of logistics warehouses. Suitable plots and adequate power are in short supply for both. Why not combine the two uses and reduce soil sealing at the same time? Energy produced by logistics properties could be fed to data centres sharing the site.

8. Thermal energy – turning waste into a resource
Many industrial sites generate thermal energy as a by-product, whereas the gas shortage last year prompted a search for alternative energy resources. So, local heat and district heating concepts should be used to exploit waste heat. Logistics facilities using electrolysers to produce hydrogen could integrate the excess thermal energy into the local heat supply. The same goes for data centres.

By combining these various forms of use, logistics properties may evolve into infrastructure assets that serve far more purposes than just goods distribution. Inversely, different infrastructure facilities can share a single logistics site rather than being dispersed.

Tobias Kassner is head of research at GARBE Industrial Real Estate