Eden Prairie's C.H. Robinson sees big opportunity in green energy
The green energy economy is providing a big growth opportunity for Eden Prairie-based C.H. Robinson.
C.H. Robinson says all the signs point to growth in this sector for the next two years and beyond.
"By 2025 investment in this sector is expected to grow by a factor of seven, reaching about $2.15 trillion worldwide," said Mike Short, C.H. Robinson's president of Global Forwarding.
The company's renewables energy business has gone up more than 600% over the past three years and is a key driver of its energy segment. While the energy segment as a whole makes up less than one-quarter of its overall business, C.H. Robinson said one of its renewable energy business customers is among its five largest customers.
C.H. Robinson helps with parts logistics for rooftop solar installation, utility-scale solar and wind projects, large battery projects and electric vehicle companies.
"The stakes are too high for these complex projects not to succeed," Short said. "The gap between sustainability goals and enough renewable energy to meet those goals can only be filled with a viable supply chain."
The number of clean energy projects continues to grow in the U.S. and globally, which will help continue the growth of C.H. Robinson's business. Most of the solar projects in Minnesota have been relatively small but larger solar projects are on the horizon.
"The community solar boom is really increasing the size of the market here," said Peter Teigland, interim executive director of Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group. "As we look forward in the next five years or so we are going to see a big spike in very large scale solar here in Minnesota. The industry I believe is going to undertake a bit of a shift in the scale of projects."
Projects are only getting more difficult because of market volatility, global trade uncertainty, the pandemic and a big shortage of flatbed trucks for use.
Large solar arrays and wind projects have demands from transporting large-scale wind turbine towers and blades to timing of work crews to fit construction schedules.
C.H. Robinson added some special features to its Navisphere platform that were designed for its renewable energy clients. It allows everyone involved to see where each part and piece of equipment is in real-time while providing updates on weather, traffic and even geopolitical situations that might alter delivery schedules.
"Delays can rack up contract penalties in the seven figures, so this technology also has predictive analytics to head off possible disruptions," Short said.
Some wind towers are as high as an 85-story building and the largest solar projects can require more than a million solar panels .The projects are often installed in remote locations without existing roads or can be installed in marine environments.
Jim Mancini, vice president of North American Surface Transportation at C.H. Robinson, detailed the amount and types specialized equipment needed to move a wind turbine.
"Transporting just one takes nine shipments using highly specialized equipment: The tower has to be moved in three sections, typically on a double schnabel or single schnabel trailer designed for wind towers. The blades can be big enough to sweep an acre, and each one is hauled separately on a trailer designed only for blades. The machine head is moved with a specific type of 13-axle trailer. Then the rest of the components are moved on flatbed trucks. Multiply that by hundreds of turbines for the largest wind farms," Mancini wrote in an email after an earlier interview.
NextEnergy Capital, based in London, owns and operates a global portfolio of solar projects that generates 1.5 gigawatts of electricity and has used C.H. Robinson's services.
"We recently had nearly 200 containers of solar panels arriving to the East Coast of the United States from Asia, with the equipment destined for two different sites," said Filinto Martin, managing director of NPIII, a NextEnergy Capital fund in a news release. "We entrusted C.H. Robinson to find local warehousing and track the inventory until the project sites were ready."