Transforming energy use for a sustainable future

Transforming energy use for a sustainable future

Schneider Electric

Decarbonisation and electrification in three key areas is key to addressing the climate crisis, says Olivier Blum at Schneider Electric 

Guest contributor |

The energy and climate crises looming over us might seem like two unrelated events, but they are two sides of the same coin.   

When we consider that energy-related greenhouse gas emissions make up 80 per cent of all human-driven emissions, and that over 60 per cent of all energy produced globally is lost or wasted before it’s consumed, it becomes clear that decarbonisation is really an energy challenge. 

Recently, my fellow experts at Schneider Electric and I shared in a docuseries with CNBC how energy demand can be reduced in three critical areas: buildings, industry and transport, and how addressing energy demand will contribute more than half of the changes required for complete decarbonisation. 

The future of buildings needs to be all-digital and all-electric  

According to the World Green Building Council, buildings are responsible for almost 40 per cent of all energy-related carbon emissions worldwide. Nearly three quarters of these come from the energy that heats, cools and powers them, and digitalisation and electrification are powerful ways to change that.   

Retrofitting buildings plays a large part in this. Installing low-energy design elements, such as better insulation, LED lights and high-efficiency air-conditioning systems is a start, but the real impact comes from digital energy-management tools like sensors that monitor temperature, humidity, noise and light levels, and software that can analyse and visualise energy usage, enabling inhabitants and building managers to make informed, real-time decisions to optimise comfort and efficiency.   

It’s imperative to increase the energy efficiency of new buildings, too. This involves efficient cooling and heating that factor in the future of the world’s climate, incorporating electric vehicle (EV) charging stations and using zero- or low-carbon materials.  

A good example of this is CityCon in Finland. The developer creates buildings and cities with numerous sustainability strategies in mind. CityCon recently partnered with Schneider Electric to install a virtual power plant solution in the Lippulaiva shopping centre in Helsinki, Finland. The virtual power plant harnesses solar energy, energy storage and demand flexibility whilst the software platform uses artificial intelligence to monitor and manage all building technology systems as well as control and optimise energy flows. This has since resulted in a significant reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. 

The decarbonisation opportunity in energy-intensive industries   

Industry is responsible for around 30 per cent of all energy-related emissions, so it’s vital that the 2020s become the ‘electric decade’, in which sites and whole supply chains are decarbonised.  

Industries can take matters into their own hands using a microgrid, a self-sufficient energy system that serves a nearby building or business. These combine the on-site production of renewable energy, battery storage and EV charging points so organisations can achieve energy resiliency, lower costs and a smaller carbon footprint.   

For instance, a microgrid created for a factory in Spain by Schneider Electric features 852 kilowatts peak of photovoltaic energy, five EV charging points and 80 kilowatt hours of battery storage, all controllable by overarching software. At maximum output, the grid’s photovoltaic energy could power the lighting of a small room for over six and a half years, with the battery storing enough energy to power 80 laptops, all day, for 80 days in a row.   

Elsewhere, Mulino Marino, an Italian flour mill, began taking steps to digitalise its production over a decade ago. Today, it uses a range of modern data and process management solutions to revolutionise production processes from loading to bagging. This has resulted in comprehensive visibility of the mill’s energy consumption for greater efficiency. 

Decarbonising the transport sector will require infrastructure change  

The third area of action is in the transport sector. As the world’s population continues to grow and urbanisation continues, an EV revolution involving the mass adoption of electrified personal and public transportation is critical. 

We need to massively expand EV charging infrastructure around the globe and equip it with digital capabilities. Microgrids will need to play a part in this by offsetting some of the pressure that additional electricity demand from EVs will have on grids, and by bringing energy autonomy in remote areas, or in places where grids are vulnerable to disruption from natural disasters.   

For example, when extreme weather disrupted power for several days at the Brookville Smart Energy Bus Depot in Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, civic leaders installed a 6.5-megawatt microgrid with on-site solar battery energy storage, and natural gas generation. Local buses can now continue to operate in the event of a main grid outage. It also advanced the county’s goal of reducing carbon emissions. 

The technologies exist today, let’s use them!  

A world in which everyone drives an ultra-efficient electric car, lives in an efficient, smart building, and where once-polluting industries are anything but, might seem like something that’s far off in the future. But the tools and partnerships to enable this are already available. If we start using them at greater scale and speed, we can address the global climate and energy crisis now in a real, tangible way.   

Olivier Blum is executive vice president of energy management at Schneider Electric 

This article was originally published in the Winter 2023 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription. 

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