By David Peake, Chief Operating Officer, The Consultus International Group
Digitalization is having a massive impact on all sectors, and in key areas including private grids, sustainability, connectivity, mobility, automation, shared appliances and 3D printing. The rewards include increased productivity and enhanced sustainability, with the power that manufacturers need being delivered in the right place at the right time and at the lowest cost.
The pace of digital-driven change continues to be break-neck. Have a look at this prescient report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) – https://www.iea.org/digital. The IEA talks about the impacts of digitalization on key elements of the energy system: from upstream oil and gas, and helping to boost the recovery of fossil fuels, through electricity provision and grids to impacts on sectors including manufacturing, transport and logistics, buildings, data centers and networks.
Digital technology can help manufacturers to optimise efficiency, improve flexibility and increase resilience. For example, new approaches enable multiple components in systems and plants to exchange real-time data, and utilise big data analytics to help improve production and, importantly, to detect and deal with issues before they can become costly problems.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are being used to help complex systems work more efficiently for longer, without the need for human intervention. And of course, new tech can be deployed to help energy-intensive users like manufacturers to access and use the energy they need, when they need it, and in more targeted, lower cost and sustainable ways, better matching supply with demand while working to reduce that demand wherever possible.
The IEA has stated that “digitalization can increase flexibility and break down barriers between energy sectors”—with four inter-related opportunities across “smart demand response, the integration of variable renewable energy sources, the rollout of smart charging technologies for electric vehicles, and the facilitation of the development of DERs [distributed energy resources].” These all have implications for manufacturing in one way or another.
Smart grids and smart demand response mechanisms can save energy (and therefore costs) and reduce peak-driven strains on the network, including volt/VAR optimisation (VVO) and conservation voltage reduction (CVR) technologies to reduce line losses and end user demand. This type of activity is being enabled by new technologies and communication systems.
It’s not just about a price-based approach, although costs are always a critical factor. This is about new and smarter ways of working, particularly in the face of surging power demand. Working with clients ranging from single sites and medium-sized enterprises to complex multi-site operations, our job is to make sense of requirements and help the organisation to operate more efficiently through integrated bespoke response solutions.
Speaking of integration: incorporating variable renewable energy (VRE) into energy systems has become a hot topic, not least as the cost of technologies used for wind and solar have fallen dramatically. Renewables are a fact of life, driven by ambitious environmental targets set by legislation, and the impetus from companies and citizens to work in more sustainable ways. Properly integrating VRE sources into our daily energy lives will require quite more work on the industry side, not least in modernising grids. As you’d expect, VRE is an important focus for Consultus group companies and the solutions we deliver for clients.
In supply chain logistics and transport networks, from raw materials to finished goods, the age of electric vehicles (EVs) may finally be arriving. As I wrote in a previous blog, the EV revolution also requires a next-generation vehicle charging infrastructure. Indeed, some observers have warned that rising demand for pure EVs could be stopped in its tracks unless the charging infrastructure sees massive improvements and development. This is another area supported by digital transformation. Working with industry-leading partners, we are currently working on the rollout of smart charging platforms to benefit EV fleet owners, operators and drivers.
Finally, we’ve seen the rapid growth of distributed energy resources (DERs). The grid has diversified and local generation is on the rise, bringing new sources of energy and two-way power flows. These sources and controllable loads are located close to where energy is actually used, often connected to a local distribution system or a host facility. They include combined heat and power plants, solar installations, small generating plants, battery systems and more. Again, this is a route for manufacturers to meet demand in smarter ways, to optimise energy usage, reduce overall costs and enable greater energy resilience and reliability through physical or virtual DER assets. This area also needs more focus and work—again supported by new and emerging digital technology.
In a time of uncertainty for manufacturers, one thing is clear: there will always be a demand for energy, and therefore there will always be calls to reduce or optimise that demand, accessing and using energy in the most efficient, lowest cost and sustainable ways. Digital transformation and new tech can help manufacturers move along that route—but it’s a complex journey that also requires expert insights and hands-on support to maximise the rewards and avoid the pitfalls.
A world-class consulting partner for energy and utilities, Consultus was named (Most Trusted Consultancy (Large Customers) at the TELCA awards 2019.
Find out more information about Consultus Digital Transformation here.