Industry needs transparency, data and electrical engineering. LNG tankers are lined up outside Western European port cities, waiting for better times. The owners are speculating that the prices for their valuable cargo will rise. Gas storage facilities in Europe are full, a mild winter is on the horizon, and consumers and industry are saving energy. It could be enough for the winter. But what will come next?
Industry is tightening its belt, it knows that the days of cheap gas are over. Europe is going cold turkey, it's hurting and impacting on prosperity. But: formerly expensive efficiency measures are now worthwhile. PV systems are in short supply, as are storage systems of course. The situation is tense, most companies are still trying to find a way ahead, and only a few decision-makers have evolved a strategy. The rest is down to the complexity of the energy system itself. Amidst the crisis, many responsible players are concentrating on the supply side (a lot of money is being channeled into the expansion of renewable energies and the grid infrastructure). Energy efficiency has hardly been an issue in recent years, and it is only in the last few months that the demand side has been gaining in importance. The price of energy is now necessitating greater efficiency – and not just in gas. The solutions are there, the RoI is dropping and now the supply chains are faltering. In the following we present important levers in the energy strategy:
Structure, measurements and knowledge
The first step for many companies is to set up an energy management system in accordance with ISO 50001 or ISO 50005 for small and medium-sized enterprises. First of all, energy flows in the plant and the associated sources of energy are recorded and analyzed. Based on this, ideas for improvement are then developed, evaluated for economic viability and subsequently implemented. Energy management thus helps in the decision-making process for investments in energy efficiency. Savings of up to 10 percent can be achieved even in the first step, according to many experts. It's about recognizing energy flows and then taking action. Sometimes, even relatively small measures can add up to savings. Does the user always need 140 degrees for steam production? Software such as ResMa from Weidmüller then supports companies in the second step of integrating energy management into their everyday business. The solution is integrated into existing systems such as MES or ERP, and provides key figures for energy management.
Saving on converters
Many companies still use uncontrolled motors to drive pumps or fans, for example. Almost two-thirds of the electricity consumed by industry is due to electric motors. Frequency converters control the speed of a motor (and pump or fan), and in many applications they can reduce energy consumption by 30 to 50 percent; in extreme cases, according to the suppliers, as much as 90 percent can be saved. Energy management requires transparency, data and electrical engineering. Christian Wendler, CEO of the automation company Lenze, is already talking about a "decade of automation" as companies seek solutions for greater efficiency. For example, Lenze has been able to reduce customers' energy consumption by up to 20 percent through the interaction of data, machine learning and domain knowledge within the scope of electrical engineering.
Networking of machines – also in the energy sector
For years now, machine builders have been discussing the IIoT and connected machines. This primarily involved the exchange of production data. The next step is to integrate the machines into the company's energy system. When energy is cheap, the machines run at full speed. The same applies to logistics centers. A warehouse doesn't always have to run at its full 100 percent capacity when the machines know the truck is stuck in traffic anyway. Domain knowledge is called for to accomplish such tasks. Automation companies have that, and it's the envy of many tech companies. They can certainly identify valuable effects with deep learning, but knowledge of a control circuit can't be replaced quickly.
In addition, companies are developing new business models such as peak shaving. And a glimpse into the further future: when employees connect their electric vehicles at the plant's charging station in the morning, the vehicles become temporary storage units for production.
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