Automation: addressing climate change & the energy crisis

Executives from Schneider Electric, Capula & Ericsson discuss the pivotal role that automation will play in addressing climate change and the energy crisis

Simultaneously facing two significant challenges in the energy sector - climate change and the energy crisis - energy independence and security, alongside decarbonisation will be crucial to navigate these rough waters. 

“While reports claim that renewables are set to meet all growth in electricity demand this year, the reality is that there’s no guarantee that this green energy will be consumed. Simply put, the renewable energy that is being generated cannot be integrated onto the grid,” says Frederic Godemel, EVP Power Systems & Services, Schneider Electric. 

Adding to these challenges is the lack of integration and coordination between electro-intensive industries which is making it difficult to balance energy demand, which is overall contributing to global emissions. “In many countries, lack of infrastructure, such as grid and transmission networks, logistics highways and ports, is curtailing the expansion of wind power and stifling the very innovation needed to transform the energy system,” adds Godemel.

“To address these challenges, we need more infrastructure that can support the transmission and distribution of electricity from renewable sources. Lucky for us, the solutions already exist. Digital Technologies are the key to balancing grid supply and demand when integrated with renewable energy.”

With digital solutions estimated to be able to reduce global emissions by up to 20% in the energy, materials, and mobility industries. Two core examples are smart grids and Robotic Process Automation. 

Automation takes over the world

Taking over the world in many ways, the energy sector is no stranger to the capabilities that automation can provide. The technology enables the sector to streamline its processes and analytics capabilities, improving efficiency, reliability, and decisions based on real-time insights as well as reduce energy loses.

“According to reports, electricity grid investments of US$635.3 billion will be needed until 2030, to support the planned rapid uptake of electric vehicles, renewable energy, and heat pumps, and shift away from fossil fuels. Of which, US$185bn would focus on digitalisation including smart grids. Smart grids, equipped with digital technologies and sensors, can monitor energy consumption patterns, and optimise the distribution of electricity, ensuring more efficient use of resources,” explains Godemel.

“By embracing automation and smart grids, organisations can enhance asset management, improve efficiency, and make faster, data-driven decisions. Automation can also play an important role in the integration of new renewable energy connections into the grid,” adds Chris Dormer, Head of Sales for the Energy business at Capula. 

“This recent step change in digitalisation is a vital development that complements automation efforts. Automation has unlocked vast amounts of data from the grid. Now, with digitalisation, this data can now be accessed, analysed, and utilised in a more sophisticated manner. The availability of this data empowers organisations to make informed decisions, optimise grid operations, and address the challenges posed by the transition to net zero emissions.”

The future is ecosystems

When it comes to digitalisation, creating an ecosystem for technology solutions instead of standalone systems, allows for seamless integration and data sharing, enhancing overall efficiency, reliability, and a more resilient energy system.

“A comprehensive ecosystem of technology partners that are compatible with each other often ensures the success of digitalisation projects. No matter how attractive a standalone technology is, it will not be useful in a real-life deployment unless it is capable of working with the rest of the pieces of the end-to-end solution,” says Lujan Pey, Account Manager for Enterprise Solutions and Private Networks at Ericsson UK & Ireland. 

“Moreover, the energy landscape is dynamic”, adds Dormer. “With new technologies and innovations regularly emerging, remaining vendor agnostic allows organisations to stay flexible and adapt to market changes quickly. By continuously evaluating and incorporating the latest advancements into solutions, organisations can benefit from cutting-edge technology that optimises their energy infrastructure and contributes to achieving net zero goals.”

Automation innovations in the energy industry

While there are many innovations happening in the energy sector when it comes to automation, some in particular are having a significant impact. “In analysis with Visual Capitalist, we [Ericsson] saw that a digitally enabled workforce can be up to 8.5% more productive, bring 48% less loss from health and safety incidents and bring 8% reduction in operational spend due to the increased effectiveness,” notes Pey.

Remote monitoring

A cost efficient solution, remote monitoring via drones can “reduce inspection times by 90%, reduce downtime costs caused by manual inspections by 65% and lead to fewer health and safety incidents, resulting in 35% less cost to the organisations,” adds Pey. 

Augmented reality (AR)

Augmented reality (AR) headsets can increase maintenance efficiency by 33%, increase safety compliance by 70%, and increase productivity by 10%. 

Digital twins

A virtual model/simulation connected to the real asset(s) to enable synchronisation of real-time data, digital twins allow businesses to leverage technological advances to solve real-world problems with real-world data, and to enable new digital business models. “It gives way to a host of ways to boost efficiency, including Improved product design and quality through simulation of what-if scenarios and incorporating feedback and improved safety by anticipating and avoiding potential operator mistakes,” says Godemel.

Energy management systems

To keep on top of the rapid and inevitable changes in the energy industry, energy management systems can help those in the industry avoid downtime, and integrate low carbon renewable energy to optimise both cost and environment.

Predictive maintenance

One way to preempt issues is through the use of Predictive Asset Analytics. “When applied in power generation plants for example, the technology uses a proprietary algorithm called OPTiCS that leverages Advanced Pattern Recognition (APR) and machine learning technology. Through this, it learns an asset’s unique operating profile during all loading, ambient and operational process conditions,” explains Godemel.

“Once an issue has been identified, the software can assist in root cause analysis and provide fault diagnostics to help the user understand the reason and significance of the problem. This can provide early warning notification and diagnosis of equipment issues days, weeks or months before failure, reducing operation costs and maintenance. The system is highly scalable and can be used to monitor a single asset, a specific plant or hundreds of remote assets across multiple sites.”

Microgrids

An emerging alternative to boosting direct grid capacity. Microgrids use on-site generation and storage  to virtually increase capacity without modifying existing energy supplies. “or example, the US Marine Corps’s air station in Miramar installed a microgrid with Schneider Electric that alleviates load from the local utility, San Diego Gas & Electric, enabling more reliable power for surrounding residents. Increased demand for grid interactivity and a more democratised power grid is driving the uptake of microgrids as businesses look to decarbonise on-site operations, reduce energy costs and boost business resiliency,” says Godemel.

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