Understanding energy flow—key to energy efficiency

As energy efficiency rises up on the agenda, Therese Leong, Head of Sales & Marketing, Hub Asia, ABB Energy Industries, discusses what makes a formula for success.

According to the International Energy Agency (IAE) energy efficiency could provide more than 40% of the emissions abatement required by 2040. With recognition growing, there is a clear message that industry needs to massively scale up energy efficiency.

There is no doubt digital technology and big data are reshaping the way industries can plan and efficiently use their energy. An optimised and stable production process can heavily reduce energy requirements in the future, a factor that energy operators, utility providers and all those involved in delivery of public services are beginning to take on board.

The power grid has become a lot more complex. We have seen new technologies and new energy sources coming in and changing the market. Electrical power demands continue to increase as industrial processes, data centers and the number of electric vehicles continue to grow. At the same time, the share of energy from renewable sources, such as wind and solar, is also growing. These variables often make it harder to successfully manage energy efficiency.

Digitalization is key in this period of energy transition. How industry re-imagines people and processes, leveraging digital technologies to take control of energy capabilities and improve operational efficiencies, reduce costs and drive sustainability, is paramount.

Improving productivity

In order to question and make better, more informed decisions aimed at delivering efficiencies and improvements, operators must have total visibility of their operations and energy flows.

When it comes to energy optimisation, greenfield sites obviously have an advantage as the design and investment phase is critically important. However, whether greenfield or brownfield, developing and implementing an energy management strategy is critical.

Energy companies must do an analysis on where their energy is consumed and where it’s produced. ABB always recommends starting with simulation. Planning power consumption via ABB’s Power Process Simulator can confirm or refute operators’ existing operations by testing them in a realistic yet disconnected environment using a replica of the plant’s electrical control system.

Last May 2019, at its site in Luedenscheid, Germany, ABB proved that the energy transition for industrial sites can be designed and sustainably succeed with this approach to digital energy management.

After a two-year design and construction phase, ABB launched its first carbon neutral and energy self-sufficient production site in the world. Featuring a solar power plant which will deliver around 1100 MWh of climate-neutral solar power a year it will self-generate enough power to cover 100% of the factories` power requirements.

Measuring 3500sqm and installed over the car parks on the company premises, the photovoltaic system will deliver around 1100 MWh of climate-neutral solar power a year–approximately the annual requirement of 340 private households. 

The technological centerpiece of the entire plant is ABB’s scalable energy management system OPTIMAX® which provides constant surveillance and aggregates optimum control of the plant’s entire energy production, consumption and storage. The system calculates the optimum energy flow based on predictive data and compensates for deviations in real time, solving complications around distributed energy resources.

Aside from the energy management system and the photovoltaic system with inverters, the entire system brings together other ABB technologies that are digitally interconnected. In addition, ABB charging points, where staff and visitors can charge their electric vehicles free of charge, provide for an additional improvement in the regional eco-balance. This single-source energy management solution is rounded off by smart switchgear for energy distribution.

The project is part of ABB’s “Mission to Zero” and a proof-of-concept that it is possible to build and run a zero emissions factory and offers as a blue-print, not only for industry but for transformation of everything from individual homes to large cities into safe, smart, and sustainable ecosystems.

The flagship site will save about 630 tonnes of CO2 a year and hence make an important contribution to help improve the climate and environmental situation at ABB in Luedenscheid.

Understanding the pattern of energy intensity

Whilst industry can gain process efficiencies and reduce and leaner energy flow within their operations, it is also becoming more important for utility providers in the production of electricity.

Whether a single utility site, or part of a wider fleet, directly connected to the power grid or decentralised - mapping and then controlling energy flows through an integrated energy management solution is vital and the only way operators can make a comprehensive assessment of energy consumption.

The only accurate way to have a clear picture of production versus consumption in real time, and in relation to live energy prices, is for operators to automate their manual engineering processes. As a result, they can increase revenues by between 2-5%, save on manpower time by approximately 5-20 hours per employee and reduce energy costs by 5-10%.

Virtual power plants (VPP) are one effective way to harness the advantages of multi-unit distributed generation. They can assist energy companies with installed distributed energy resources (DERs) such as wind and solar, to aggregate, repurpose and dispatch energy sources and help them to trade more efficiently with the grid.

For those users with control of grid-connected assets, such as vertically integrated utilities, cities and aggregators, it can coordinate control of networked generation assets by creating a virtual power plant.

Cities face the same challenges as utilities

Industry and communities face the same key challenges: Manage the growth whilst transitioning to a sustainable, reliable energy supply or production site with limited financial and spatial resources.

In the face of rapid urbanisation cities, utilities and industry all need to become smarter in order to obtain greater efficiencies from existing infrastructure and build unified, attractive city services.However, many cities struggle in collating, visualising, sharing and evaluating the necessary information to make the right decisions.

A critical part of any smart city energy strategy must be developing and deploying solutions for energy management, district heating and cooling systems, water treatment & wastewater treatment and reuse, transfer and distribution, electric vehicle charging and more. The operation of each connected unit and the delivery of grid services are economically optimised in real time given system constraints, enabling integrated planning, trading, operating, monitoring, and reporting of power plants, generation units, energy storages, and controllable loads.

Taking the next step

Reducing costs, minimising risks and driving sustained profitability are three key drivers for utility providers, municipalities and energy operators. The key is to set out clear goals, have a good understanding of your plant, understanding the ebbs and flows to optimise performance, as well as an open mind to rethink and streamline your operations.

Globally, ABB is working together with our customers across the energy sector to drive operational energy efficiencies via process automation, asset management and digitisation solutions. By supplying real-time visibility and insights into energy resources versus consumption versus demand, we help our customers optimise productivity and drive down OPEX, while minimising downtime and helping to meet environmental targets.

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