MV equipment sustainability depends on environmentally conscious design values

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Climate change action is more urgent than ever. We all can focus on ways to cut carbon emissions in both how we live and the products we use. For medium voltage (MV) equipment and their installations, this requires contributing to sustainable development goals, encouraging a circular economy that maintains value while ensuring circular material flows, and adopting ways to minimize products’ environmental footprint.

Circular economy is a model of production and consumption that focuses on reducing, reusing, and recycling materials and parts, and on product refurbishment to prolong resource use by extending its useful life. Rather than a linear economy, which is based on a make, take, and discard model, a circular economy keeps resources in a loop.

Circular economy begins with an environmentally conscious product design. If the design does not include environmental considerations from the start, it becomes difficult to improve the product’s environmental performance. Environmental performance could include, for example, its carbon footprint, or the durability of its material and parts.

One of the challenges to switching to sustainable MV installations is that the environmental aspects of design often have not been specified. Why not? Like many manufactured products, MV equipment must prioritize their functional capabilities and safety when first mapping out technical features and ratings, often at the expense of including more sustainable specs. Environmental features may not make that original scope. To make measurable change, the trade-offs between traditional criteria and environmental ones must be optimized upfront — that is, when designing the functions required by every stakeholder along the product’s lifecycle. This balance creates the value of environmentally conscious design, such as ensuring the equipment is Safe and Sustainable by Design.

These are the most important focus areas when designing for circular economy

To optimize circular economy, the MV installation design stage should focus on:

  • avoiding hazardous substances and their waste during material selection, and avoiding direct substance emissions into the environment (air, water, soil) during all life phases
  • minimizing resource use, avoiding use of critical raw materials, and increasing the percentage of recycled material content
  • avoiding any adverse environmental impact
  • extending product lifespan and improving end-of-life treatment by reusing any materials or parts before they reach their end of use; if applicable, remanufacture, recycle, and recover
  • implementing supply chain loops to collect and ensure the future lives of products, parts, and materials
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Circular design brings other benefits including savings and competitive advantage.

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a charity that’s working to accelerate the transition to a circular economy, the manufacturing industry could achieve 10% to 15% cost savings on direct materials required for production.

Circular design is also a draw for customers. Companies that prioritize sustainability now will benefit from being at the forefront of an environmentally conscious transformation. It’s already clear that end users and partners want sustainable products. Research consistently finds that customers factor their purchases’ environmental impact into their decision making. For instance, a World Economic Forum survey found that more than 80% of consumers think it’s “important or extremely important” that companies design environmentally sustainable products.

It also prepares MV equipment manufacturers for current and future regulations

A number of regulations, standards, and goals (either already established or in the works) require MV equipment manufacturers to improve sustainability. These include safety aspects for protecting people, with the focus on substances and chemicals (RoHS directive or Reach regulation in Europe), and the environment with the European Ecodesign Directive, and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

In June 2023, the United States Executive Order 14057, Catalyzing Clean Energy Industries and Jobs Through Federal Sustainability, and President Biden’s Federal Sustainability Plan followed the Greening Government Initiative, in which 68 global governments participated. The US executive order stated that Federal infrastructure will be transitioned to zero-emission vehicles and energy efficient buildings, all powered by carbon pollution-free electricity to achieve Net Zero by 2050. New regulations in the United States and other countries will likely take shape following the globally supported Greening Government Initiative.

While some regulations already focus on material efficiency (packaging, waste, etc.) and have been deployed in most regions, other regulations will be expanded to consider the circular economy, including resource efficiency and business models. This is similar to how the EU reinforces its carbon pledge.

By focusing on an environmentally conscious design now, manufacturers can meet current rules and prepare for future regulations. For example, cost and CO2 savings are important due to their contribution to climate change (GWP) and will increasingly be linked to a regulatory framework.

Discover how our innovative MV switchgear design eliminates SF6 use

We are proud to be trailblazers in sustainable MV switchgear.  To better understand why, let’s take a quick look at what eliminating SF6 means for North American manufacturers. Both types of MV equipment — Air Insulated Switchgear (AIS) and Gas Insulated Switchgear (GIS) —use vacuum technology for breaking in most cases. Traditional GIS equipment has used SF6 gas for insulation, resulting in benefits such as a smaller equipment footprint and higher power density. Despite these and other benefits, SF6 fundamentally is a greenhouse gas. So the big deal about using pure air instead is that it replaces the SF6 gas with a non-toxic, non-CMR (Carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic chemicals), and non-greenhouse gas. While Schneider Electric historically has made both GIS and AIS products globally, our new MV switchgear has all the benefits of GIS but with pure-air insulation instead. This is a win-win for the industry and the environment.

Instead of using the greenhouse gas SF6 in our newest switchgear, we are advancing sustainability initiatives thanks to AIS innovation.  Learn how our customers, such as E.ON, EEC Engie, and Green Alp, are already benefiting from this new approach to switchgear, accelerating the adoption of green and digital switchgear.

We support the transition to more sustainable MV equipment

Partners can rely on us to help them build a more sustainable future through all stages of their equipment and services projects. We’re fully committed to a more sustainable future for our customers and our own business. That’s why we’re investing heavily in more environmentally friendly products across their lifecycle, including design, manufacturing, first use and circulation of materials for resource conservation and future uses. These initiatives helped our customers save 1 million tons of CO2 in 2021.

Download our free MV technical guide to learn how to create more sustainable designs

Access our free MV technical guide for an in-depth look at how your MV installations will benefit from more environmentally conscious designs. For example, the guide describes how MV installation design could be affected by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which are designed to be “a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.”

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