Electricity 4.0 where digital and electric converge
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With a global move towards decarbonisation of the electricity mix, Taru Madangombe discusses Electricity 4.0 – the convergence of electrical and digital at scale – as a route to smarter and more efficient energy.

With recent media reports indicating that officials from the US, UK, France and Germany are pursuing an agreement with Eskom to shut down the majority of its coal-fired plants, the spotlight has again been placed on South Africa’s energy provision and usage.

Furthermore, the impending COP26 summit will seek feasible ways of moving towards the decarbonisation of the electricity mix throughout the world, particularly in the major emerging countries.

Against this backdrop, South Africa, more than ever, needs to rethink its relationship with energy which accounts for 33% of Africa’s overall carbon emissions contribution.

Fortunately, there are attainable solutions that can set the country on a path of optimisation and sustainable energy management and usage. One of these solutions is the convergence of electrical and digital at scale. It is, in fact, the fastest route to clear, smarter and more efficient energy.

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To contextualise the above, it’s important that we take one step back. Whilst most are familiar with Industry 4.0, the globe has, in fact, gone through four technology-driven revolutions, impacting the worlds of industry and electricity simultaneously.

The solution is, therefore, a world that is more electric and more digital. An efficient, sustainable and resilient electric world that merges digital and electric to ultimately mitigate the impact of climate change. At Schneider Electric we call this Electricity 4.0.

Electricity 4.0 can play an invaluable role in South Africa considering the country’s level of carbon emission contribution. The time is now to start looking at how we can move towards Electricity 4.0, realising an economy built on sustainable practices whilst mitigating climate change.

Why Electricity 4.0?

One of the biggest challenges is to make electricity efficient and visible. We need to look at how the electric world is merging with digital and, importantly, how this could lead to sustainable electricity provision.

The world’s energy demand continues to be met by fossil fuels that are distributed by systems that are passive and outdated. This means that we need to upgrade each stage of the value chain; from generation with cleaner energy production, to distribution that includes microgrids closer to the point consumption, and energy usage that incorporates metering and smart technology.

When we then bring Electricity 4.0 into the equation, we start making real strides. For one, electricity is the most efficient energy (proven to be three to five times more efficient than other sources) and it is also the best vector for decarbonisation. It offers near 100% maximum thermal efficiency when it comes to “useful energy”.

Also, whilst electricity demand is projected to double by 2040, six times more electricity will also come from renewables which translates to a massive jump from six to 40% in the next 20 years.

The convergence

At its core, Electricity 4.0 represents the convergence of electricity and digital; today’s digital technologies exist to achieve widespread electrification. A good example is the move towards electric vehicles.

Importantly, is the convergence of electrical and digital’s role in establishing smart energy measurement and waste reduction. These are two critical points that are relevant to SA and our grid’s energy provision challenge.

The technology already exists to digitalise electrical distribution, making it visible to grid operators, providing insight into how it’s used. When you then add smart devices, apps, analytics and software, we can then deploy energy more efficiently which results in massive savings.

Ultimately, Electricity 4.0 allows us to become more efficient and to transmit electricity with less loss and waste. However, for us to gain the most from Electricity 4.0, we must upgrade our transmission grid. This will entail substantial commitment and investment which can only be achieved through public-private partnerships.

Taru Madangombe is the Vice President of Power Systems at Schneider Electric

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