How power digitalization and digital services are shaping resilience and sustainability in buildings of the future

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The advent of smart buildings has changed how facilities’ electrical systems are designed and managed. Although invisible to most occupants, smart building electrical systems are not static and have evolved to become connected and intelligent through the innovation of power digitalization. Across these more advanced systems, however, threats such as voltage fluctuations, short circuits, and harmonics (power distortions) still exist and can cause uptime disturbances across the network.

Since many smart building systems are interconnected, the preservation of reliable power quality has emerged as a key aspect of infrastructure uptime. A malfunction in one electrical system component can impact the efficiency of another, and power disruptions such as blackouts and brownouts cause downtime that negatively impacts a business’s profitability.

Today’s modern building electrical systems are evolving like that of self-driving automobiles. In the auto domain, we’ve gone from driving cars with manual transmissions to cars that now drive and park themselves. Building electrical systems are moving to a similar self-diagnosis and self-repair model, which frees humans from having to be present on-site to monitor these systems.

power digitalization

Power digitalization and power services work hand-in-hand

Power digitalization begins when smart devices are installed throughout the electrical distribution system. These include wireless thermal sensors and intelligent power protection devices (controllers, relays, and trip units), correction devices (that help address power factor, voltage imbalance, and harmonics), and monitoring devices (like power quality meters and energy meters). Then, energy and power management system (EPMS) software are used to collect energy consumption, power event, and electrical asset performance information from these devices. The result is simplified management tasks, streamlined activities, and automated processes.

Once the operation is digitalized, business benefits can be enhanced through artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics that enable the performance of digital services. For example, an EPMS is connected to the cloud and integrated with other management systems such as building management, process SCADA, and enterprise resource planning (ERP). Digital services such as asset and power management can enable the performance of predictive maintenance. As a result, building operators can attain much clearer visibility of building assets and lower downtime risk by observing system behavioral trends and anomalies.

A positive impact on sustainability

Power digitalization also brings richer visibility to a building’s electrical energy usage. The adage “You can’t manage what you don’t measure” rings particularly true in energy management. By producing abundant energy performance data, digitalized power systems can track energy conservation performance against sustainability targets. Measuring energy flows–through power receptacles (plugs in walls), lighting systems, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems–helps to extend the degree of operational precision and efficiency when managing a building’s electrical distribution system. Then, using energy usage analysis and performance tracking, the effectiveness of changes to those systems and the impact on overall site sustainability can be determined and then continually improved.

In the industrial realm, the growth in the use of digital technologies to automate machinery and monitor and analyze manufacturing processes is primarily driven by the need to increase efficiency and reduce waste. Digital monitoring and management technologies help firms to extend the manufacturing process productive capabilities of tools and machinery by assessing performance and proactively predicting optimum repair and refurbishment cycles. This condition-based maintenance extends the lifespan of manufacturing assets and reduces failure and associated downtime. Such digital services create greater operational efficiency, improve energy efficiency, and optimize material usage, which helps decrease the production facility’s carbon footprint.

Digital power services as a means for maximizing uptime

The risk of breakdown is lower when using a combination of software analytics, artificial intelligence, and remote services expertise. Once critical assets are equipped with sensors and connected to the cloud, data can be collected and consolidated for analysis. Data and patterns are identified during analysis, and equipment behavioral anomalies are detected. This then helps to spur decisions and actions that help to optimize the performance of the critical assets.

Often, remote experts based in a virtual Connected Services Hub can be engaged to provide 24/7 monitoring, recommendations, and alerts whenever any electrical system issues are detected. This way, potential issues are identified much earlier and can be addressed before the situation results in unanticipated downtime. Risks are reduced because of a detailed analysis drawn from a large data lake of performance statistics on similar electrical equipment across the globe.

For example, before an incident of unanticipated downtime occurs, continuous thermal monitoring can identify if a hotspot is beginning to develop, and actions can be taken to rectify the situation before it gets serious. The notion is like a hiker developing a blister on their heel during a walk. In most cases, the hiker will heed that warning sign and administer a fix before a potentially debilitating situation occurs (like no longer being able to walk).

Field applications of power digitalization and digital services

Many organizations are embracing power digitalization and a power services approach to boost operational resilience and drive cost savings. For example, a local power utility assessed Guardian Glassa leading US-based global glass manufacturer, with significant power factor correction-related monthly penalties due to the company’s failing capacitor banks. By introducing a Schneider Electric solution that included PowerLogic PFC, and EcoStruxure Power Monitoring Expert products, “smart” power correction was made possible. The solution allowed Guardian Glass stakeholders to measure, in real-time, the performance of the capacitors. As a result, using these power events analysis and quality correction tools, the Guardian Glass team avoided hundreds of thousands of dollars in utility power factor surcharges.

In another example, Nestlé Nescafé, owners of the world’s largest soluble coffee factory in Mexico, successfully use digital services to significantly reduce downtime. The company partnered with Schneider Electric to transition to a digitized maintenance approach using power system monitoring and control. 

Nestlé implemented online sensors to monitor equipment and uses artificial intelligence with advanced analytic systems to predict future system failures. Nestlé plans to have 80% of its global facilities use this condition-based monitoring approach, which they estimate will cut maintenance costs by 5% and raise equipment performance by 5 to 7%. Much of this improvement is attributed to an increasingly dense array of IoT-based sensors (each factory has between 150 and 300), which collect much more reliable data. This allows the Nestlé plant operators to detect even slight deteriorations at early stages, giving them more time to react and reducing the need for external maintenance solutions. Nestlé executives predict that the condition-based maintenance approach will help them achieve a 5% reduction in manufacturing energy consumption in 2023

In their plant in Mexico, Nestlé equipped electrical panels, transformers, and switchgear with sensors and connected to a cloud-based system that allowed the plant floor power assets to be visible and remotely managed 24/7 from any device. Then, using one of Schneider Electric’s digital services, EcoStruxure Asset Advisor, Schneider Electric service engineers from the Connected Services Hub could predict failures and proactively notify the Nestlé Nescafé facilities staff of any impending downtime threats.

For more information

Learn more about how Buildings of the Future are migrating to intelligent software and services-driven power system architectures to increase resilience and sustainability. Our Guide further explains the important role of digital services.

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