HomeRegional NewsAfricaViable reasons to modernise your energy management systems

Viable reasons to modernise your energy management systems

The energy-intensive user market stands to optimise assets when deploying energy management systems via digital technologies. However, the uptake of this strategy depends on a higher awareness and understanding of the benefits and policies available to the industry.

This article first appeared in ESI Africa Edition 5, 2018. You can read the magazine’s articles here or subscribe here to receive a print copy. 

Since 2010, global energy intensity – primary energy demand per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) – has fallen at an average annual rate of 2.1%, which is nearly double that of the preceding three decades (IEA, 2017a). Similarly, the value of energy goods and services in manufacturing industries – final energy use per unit of gross value added (GVA) – has fallen by around 30% in both IEA member countries and major emerging economies since 2000.

A contributory factor to improvements in industrial energy intensity has been the growing use of energy management systems, which provide enduring structures and processes for industrial or commercial firms to monitor energy use and improve efficiency.

While positive, the trends relating to improvements in industrial energy intensity and the implementation of energy management systems are dwarfed by those associated with the growing application of information and communication technologies (ICT) and digitalisation across the global economy. These digitalisation trends have led to significant increases in data availability, with around 90% of the data in the world today created over the past two years (IBM, 2017).

Energy-intensive economies

The post-2015 South African National Energy Efficiency Strategy (NEES) aims to build on its 2005 inaugural achievement of a 21.4% savings against the 2000 baseline, stimulating further energy efficiency improvements through a combination of fiscal and financial incentives. It targets a 16% reduction in energy consumption in manufacturing by 2030 (relative to 2015 baseline) and 40 Petajoule cumulative total annual energy saving from energy efficiency interventions in mining.

With about 0.4toe/$1,000 GDP, South Africa is one of the most energy-intensive economies in the world due to the high share of coal in the primary energy mix (68% in 2015), and aging inefficient infrastructure. In addition, its industrial energy efficiency is on average significantly lower than in other countries.

For industry and businesses, the Energy Efficiency Savings Tax Incentive (Section 12L of the Income Tax Act) introduced in 2013, which provides a tax deduction for savings achieved on a kilowatt-hour equivalent basis, has attracted strong interest from industry and is producing encouraging results.

Recent evidence shows a reversal of the encouraging energy intensity trend since 2009 and is an indication that global energy intensity improvements are slowing when reviewing the global average annual change in energy intensity. The role of and need for digital technologies is amplified to realign global energy intensity performance with IEA’s Sustainable Development Scenario targets for 2018 to 2040.

Digitalisation drivers

Evidence that the 4th industrial revolution is already upon us is borne out by digital technology applications in mobile phones, Google maps, ride mapping, smart- and micro-grids, supervisory control and data acquisition systems, machine controls, building management systems, communication systems, smart meters, robotics and surge pricing applying algorithms to adjust prices automatically based on volumes of enquiries and ‘hits’.

In reviewing the drivers of digitalisation it is important to focus its fundamental elements namely data, connectivity and analytics and considering that sensors, internet bandwidth and data storage as they are at the heart of digitalisation.

Therefore, it is no surprise that the cost of these have dropped by over 90% since 2008, according to Bloomberg’s 2017 New Energy Finance Report.

Digitalisation trends are truly astounding. Internet data traffic is growing exponentially and has trebled over the past five years. It grew from 2.0 terabytes in 1987 to 1.1 zettabytes (x1021) in 2017. Furthermore, the smart meter installations have doubled in four years since 2012 and are accelerating. Smart meters enable a real time and automated response to anomalies.

Forms of digitalisation

Pre-digital energy systems were defined by unidirectional flows from sources of power generation to industry and buildings – each had a distinct role.

Today digital technologies enable a multi-directional and highly integrated process and an energy system that allows for information and power to flow in both directions, enabling a smart response to changing demands and anomalies.

Beyond the plant fence line, linear supply value chains are evolving into complex, dynamic and connected webs facilitating circular economy concepts. Digitalisation also offers system flexibility from the demand side in terms of power generation benefits.

Digitally enabled demand response shifts electricity consumption to off-peak periods. Demand response in buildings, industry and transport contributes to the avoidance of investment in expensive new electricity infrastructure.

Digital twinning

Digital twinning is the mapping of a physical asset to a digital platform using data from sensors on the physical asset to analyse its efficiency, condition and real-time status.

Another important element is the technology required to visualise the information that comes from the digital twin. The majority of applications use virtual or augmented reality innovation for this like stereoscopic 3D projectors.

A good example of industrial digitalisation is the modelling of digital plant twins to conduct virtual feasibility and durability testing of real process plants to accelerate the innovation cycle.

This is where real-time feedback, from sensors positioned across the factory floor, is used to reliably assess the impact of a change in factors such as product quality, production rates, environmental changes and so on. This is enabled through digitalisation.

Typical digital twinning applications comprise: predictive maintenance, product and process design, optimising production, safety and risk evaluation, assembly of air conditioner plants, testing smart phones, design of 3D printers, motors, turbines and robotics and fine tuning spacecraft from a base station on earth. Digital twinning also enables the prediction of machine breakages before they happen. Prototypes can be tested and updated virtually before one goes to the expense and effort of building and operating one.

Many industries are beginning to adopt the digital twin approach for product design and it has huge potential for testing in process-driven industries like chemicals and food production.

General Electric relies on digital twinning to build and maintain its wind farms and it helps BP engineers to visualise their projects and virtually simulate actions before executing on physical assets.

So far it has been used for highvalue products, such as gas turbines, but it’s now starting to be used to tackle more everyday manufacturing problems. Global research and advisory firm Gartner predicts that 50% of large industrial companies will use digital twins by 2021. According to Orbis Research, 85% of IoT platforms will contain some form of digital twinning by 2020.

South African industry boasts many world class examples of digitalisation applications that improve plant control and energy performance. Compressed air, steam, pump and motor controls are commonly digitised systems enabled to respond automatically to anomalies.

These may range from the development of acoustic signatures for steam traps for predictive maintenance, sequencing multiple boilers to multiple compressor controls that enable an intelligent response to changes in process demand.

Building digital resilience

My hypothesis is that making the digital landscape clearer for energy consumers and decision-makers will increase the uptake and effectiveness of digital applications in promoting energy management.

To date cyber disruption to the energy sector has been small but cyber-attacks are becoming easier and cheaper owing to malware, phishing, whaling, botnets, etc. Digitalisation increases the ‘cyberattack surface’ of energy systems and sadly full prevention is impossible.

Impact can, however, be limited by raising awareness through improved cyber hygiene, setting standards, staff training, proactive coordination by governments and industry and designing digital resilience in technologies and systems. International efforts can further help raise awareness and share best practices. ESI

Energy efficiency

This article first appeared in ESI Africa Edition 5, 2018. You can read the magazine’s articles here or subscribe here to receive a print copy. 

Guest Contributor
The views expressed in this article by the author are not necessarily those of the publishers and/or association partners. While every effort is made to ensure accuracy, the publisher and editors cannot be held responsible for any inaccurate information supplied and/or published.