Sustainability and Industry are no Longer Mutually Exclusive – Part 1

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At Schneider Electric, you have heard us talk at length about the energy paradox: world energy use has increased by 50% over the last 25 years, and yet two million people on our planet still lack access to reliable electricity. Add to that the forecast that energy demand will increase by almost another 50% by 2050[1]. In addition, we know that 85% of CO2 emissions are linked to energy use[2] and that industries use one third of worldwide energy[3]. And we know that there will be a gap of 40% between the supply of, and the demand for, clean water by 2030[4].

The result is that we must cut emissions in half to avoid significant and irreversible damage to our planet. We must both decrease our carbon intensity and improve our efficiency by a factor of three if we are to avoid a climate and energy catastrophe. 

There is no doubt that the easiest, cheapest, fastest, and most profitable way to embrace green energy is to save energy and to consume it smarter. A huge untapped potential for energy savings exists in so many industries and we can get to it through innovation and bold ideas. Technologies are available now that can help alleviate the negative impact on our environment.

Industrial companies can reduce energy consumption by up to 30%

It is estimated that overall, a whopping two thirds of efficiency potential remains untapped – this is over 80% in the buildings sector, 78% in the infrastructure sector, and 60% in the industrial sector.

How can industrial companies tap into this hidden potential?

Simply, they must begin to transition from “producing more” to “producing better.”

Through digitization and the IIoT, we can discover so many different capabilities and possibilities to meet sustainability requirements. Overall, an industrial company could expect that, with the right automation, power, and plant optimization solutions in place, they could reduce energy consumption/costs by up to 30%. Good for business, good for the planet, right?

In the first part of this blog I’d like to look at some of the key strategies that can be applied to your industrial operations that can help achieve this. In the second part of the blog I’ll discuss some other business areas where digitization can be applied to help meet sustainability goals.

 Visibility for sustainability

The digital transformation of industries means everything is connected. This connection facilitates company-wide visibility of real-time consumption. And if we know what we are consuming, and where the energy is being wasted, we can address it. This visualization is essential for industries, not only for energy use and waste but for other inputs, as well, to be able to increase profitability while protecting the environment. A system architecture that allows each employee, from the operator to the plant manager, to actually see what is happening and take real-time action whenever it is needed from wherever they are in the business – we can do that now. For example, the convergence of power data into the context of process data to provide real time information on either energy consumption in the context of process optimization (we change the process and look at the impact on the energy data), or information on process usage based on energy optimization (we change the energy usage and we look at the impact on the process performance), will help to find the most efficient process set up with the most efficient energy use while also considering the profitability of the system.

Augmented operators are more sustainable

Augmented operators – workers who are equipped with mobile devices, data analytics, augmented reality, and transparent connectivity to increase productivity, and operate and manage a plant in real time – are, in and of themselves, contributing to the sustainability of an industrial enterprise. The digital transformation of industries gives plant personnel this arsenal of tools so they can identify errors and maintenance requirements more precisely and then send the right person, with the right tools, at the right time and to the right place when human intervention is needed. The augmented operator can also draw on the expertise of other experts, remotely, using these digital tools, thus optimizing travel and displacement costs to benefit both the business and the environment. 

Syncing design and production to be more sustainable

With technologies like digital twin and simulation packages, industrial companies can promote more collaboration between product design and production functions like materials, production processes and, more extensively, in the plant’s operations, as well. By leveraging real-time data to mirror the physical world in a virtual model (which can include products, machines, and human beings), operators can test and optimize the set points for a machine before the physical changeover for the next run. This drives down machine setup times, increases quality by saving start-up and idle energy, reduces material waste, and allows product design and manufacturing to be adjusted to take into consideration different sustainability parameters or requirements.

Sustainability built in at every level of the plant

Finally, I’d like to touch on building sustainability into the very design of your plant, starting with

the intrinsic efficiency of products and devices that make up your operations like:

  • PLCs that are designed to produce faster while using the same amount of energy and a higher volume of I/O
  • Drives and PLCs that can be updated, and some maintenance actions can be implemented, without stopping the full process – saving a lot of energy at restart
  • HMIs and PLCs that include a Stop/Start functionality that saves energy
  • Pushbuttons and beacons that are designed with lower energy consuming LED

Looking at the overall plant, process and enterprise, connected products mean information can be seen from the operations up to the enterprise levels. Actions resulting from this enhanced visibility can, in turn, improve the plant’s energy consumption. We consider this “active” energy efficiency. It can be closed loop, for example with PLCs or MES linked to an ERP system that implements business rules around sustainability, or open loop, by measuring consumption and tying it to specific operator behaviors that can be optimized, or even to machines that are less efficient than others and may require maintenance.

In addition, the use of Ethernet everywhere facilitates the transparency of energy consumption by individual devices, including sensors, contactors, drives, PAC, DCS, HMI, etc. For example, variable speed drives with algorithms and built-in intelligence can not only minimize the consumption of energy, but also put that intelligence to work to adapt an operation so the drive functions at its best efficiency point (BEP).

Industry and sustainability are no longer mutually exclusive. Nor can they afford to be. The technologies available today are already bringing the two closer together. In the next part of the blog, we’ll look at sustainability measures that can be applied to supply chains, product design, and building management.

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[1] McKinsey Energy Outlook, 2016; IEA WEO 2016, Current Policy Scenario (Business as Usual)

[2] IEA 2013

[3] IEA 2014

[4] KMPG 2012

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