Work hours slashed, staff laid off, operations shut down completely – these are just some of the possible business consequences when energy costs soar beyond operational feasibility. And today’s volatile energy environment is threatening the profitability and viability of many industrial enterprises in Europe and beyond.
But is this inevitable, or is there another way?
Last winter, Europe faced an unexpected crisis: the cost of energy skyrocketed. Many European nations only avoided severe blackouts thanks to a mild winter and a huge injection of cash – in fact, governments have spent more than €800bn to subsidize fuel costs.
Far from being over, the International Energy Agency warns that Europe risks the same threat this winter. Despite the EU stockpiling natural gas, the agency predicts the region could still face shortfalls of almost 30bn cubic meters – to put that in context, that’s about 7% of 2021 demand.
The fact remains that the future is unclear. Energy markets are still in a very vulnerable position and from an economic standpoint, unless Europe’s energy costs are reigned in, European businesses will struggle to stay competitive against the likes of the United States and China.
Of course, on the energy supply side of the equation, shifting away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources is one huge step that industrial organizations can take to strengthen their competitiveness. Using renewable power purchase agreements, for instance, can control the cost of clean energy sources, or turning to microgrids can boost energy resilience as well as deliver lower, more predictable energy costs and a greener supply. On the demand side, industries can reduce their energy use by improving asset efficiency. This plays an essential – but still often underestimated – role in the energy savings game.
What’s in the digital toolbox to drive asset efficiency?
Whether you’re a manufacturer, a water utility, a machine builder, or any other type of industrial enterprise, you can improve your power and automation efficiency using the latest digital tools:
1. Modernize aging assets: Upgrading industrial assets with more energy-efficient ones (e.g., high-efficiency heaters, compressors, pumps, motors, drives, etc.) and deploying new-generation digital tools and services can optimize asset performance. Connecting variable speed drives to motors and pumps, for example, can reduce energy consumption by up to 30%.
Once old equipment is replaced, you must then reinvent and clearly define the functions of those assets. A new generation of digital software tools and services will optimize asset design and give a more in-depth view of how core assets behave. This deeper layer of data capture and analysis provides insights into optimizing asset performance. An operator can execute more finely tuned adjustments when they know how often a particular motor stops or starts or why a specific valve opens and closes.
Take, for example, a motor that runs 100% of the time because that’s how it’s always been done. Data may actually justify running it only 50% of the time without compromising process output or quality. This level of visibility sets the stage for reductions in energy use and operational costs.
2. Try before you build: Digital twin software helps to test the energy efficiency of new plant assets before you spend time and money purchasing and installing them. These cloud-based virtual models also help engineers test control logic in a simulated commissioning scenario. Using digital twins can help minimize potential design errors and streamline machine integration processes. They allow engineers to pinpoint where efficiency gains can be made and downtime avoided.
3. Digitalize maintenance: A predictive maintenance approach uses advanced analytics to protect valuable assets from accelerated aging due to overuse or challenging environmental conditions. It optimizes both productivity and Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE). When sensors are embedded in plant assets together with supervisory software, for instance, it becomes possible to monitor energy consumption and operations remotely. In this process, analytical models predict abnormal asset behavior so that corrective actions can be taken long before a problem materializes.
A case in point
Asset efficiency was a key driver when we worked with Wilo SE, a European manufacturer of pumps and pump systems for the building technology, water, and industrial sectors with headquarters in Dortmund, Germany.
To prevent flooding events, one of Wilo’s mining customers needed to replace its failed dewatering system with an energy efficient and reliable one, complete with remote monitoring capabilities, to control water levels. Wilo, together with Schneider Electric and pumping control panel builder Arsindo, designed and delivered the new system using an EcoStruxure Machine solution. The combination of EcoStruxure Machine Advisor and AVEVA Edge, which operates on AVEVA Connect, allows the mine’s engineering team to monitor machine location, usage, and condition remotely with cloud-based control.
This visibility has a direct and significant impact on the performance and efficiency of the assets by arming the maintenance team with individual dashboards to monitor the assets, predict maintenance needs, and send notifications when necessary. It also includes functionalities for troubleshooting and fixing the machines using cloud-based software tools.
All this has enabled the mining operation to:
- decrease energy consumption by 20%
- cut downtime by 25% through faster fault detection and resolution
- reduce labor costs by 40%
For more information
For industries grappling with the harsh impacts of rising energy prices, taking concrete steps to improve asset efficiency can be pivotal to bolstering business resilience and sustainability. To find out more, download our new e-guide, “Three smart actions to help industrial companies navigate the European energy crisis.”