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NEC, Birmingham(B40 1NT)

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25/01/2021 - 27/01/2021

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Automating energy efficiency

Automating energy efficiency
To achieve sustainable energy savings requires putting in place automated solutions as part of a holistic approach to energy management. Here Jez Palmer from Schneider Electric explains the steps to energy efficiency and how VSDs can be integrated into plant automation to deliver greater results.

When it comes to achieving greater energy efficiency within an organisation, the process to manage and improve energy usage can be broken into four simple steps; measure, fix the basics, automate, and monitor and improve. Firstly, by measuring energy usage through metering, energy audits and simple bill analysis, it is possible to examine the usage of various installations, processes and systems to identify where savings can be made. 

The second step - fix the basics - involves educating staff to help reduce electrical consumption by switching off devices when they're not in use and utilising components such as energy efficient lighting and power factor correction. However, part of this element relies on behavioural changes, which can lead to inconsistencies and under-performance in improving energy efficiency.  So the solution lies in automation, which is the third step in the energy saving cycle. Devices ranging from timers, impulse relays and presence detection on lighting to Variable Speed Drives (VSDs) and management systems, can all help to limit energy consumption.

When utilising automation technologies to reduce energy usage, organisations need to think longer term and consider the potential of ever emerging technologies, looking for future-proof solutions that can be seamlessly integrated into future architectures. Installing VSDs can reduce energy consumption by up to 50%, giving a massive potential to reduce the country's carbon footprint and, at the same time, making industry more efficient. With Schneider Electric's new range of drives, built-in 'motor flux optimisation' is employed to maximise the potential savings, typically between five and 10% additional savings in some applications, which can help to reduce the payback period even more. It is also worth looking beyond the typical fan and pump applications for VSDs.  If they are utilised in more complex installations, the scope for energy savings is much greater.

Increased sophistication
Although a simple machine, where a standalone motor is connected to a single VSD, will have basic control needs, more complex applications, where a number of motors require drives, will usually imply that a PLC or automation system be used. The added benefits that a fully integrated automation system brings include increased visibility of the plant and greater control, which is why the benefit from VSDs continues to grow. This visibility and resulting control, enables plant managers to employ VSDs to reduce energy consumption, prevent downtime, limit unplanned maintenance and reduce costly man hours, as problems can be identified and rectified from different locations, even remotely.

When designing an automation system to incorporate VSDs, a holistic approach should be taken to ensure maximum energy savings are reaped. Rather than looking at single components within the architecture, the whole system should be considered from motor control through to the supervisory and business systems. This not only ensures complete integration but can also save money in the long run. Having a greater control over the plant leads to a more efficient and productive process, as the VSDs can be optimised in order to cope with demand in a reactive and responsive manner. 

Developments in automation are making this easier than ever, but in order to fully appreciate this VSDs should form a part of an integrated, Collaborative Control System. HMIs with powerful configuration software such as Vijeo Designer for the Magelis range of HMIs from Schneider Electric can contribute to enhancing energy management. Vijeo Designer software allows PC simulation, supports multi window working and contains a library of more than 4,000 customisable images to make it suitable for individual needs. In addition, this software contains all of the drivers required for communication to all major vendor's PLCs and VSDs, allowing full openness and integration to most existing automation systems, making control simple.

When it comes to delivering results, it is essential those responsible for implementing processes and deploying technologies have access to the right equipment that will enable them to control the plant more effectively. Poor implementation of an energy efficiency scheme could also significantly reduce the potential for savings, so check the business has the resources to manage the procurement and installation of equipment. 

Following the automation of systems, it is then possible to complete the final stage of the energy management cycle, which involves continuously monitoring and recording usage to help make further improvements. Automating areas, systems and processes that have a significant energy usage, will make this part of the process easier and more efficient, as organisations will be provided with an accurate account of their energy consumption, making sure every dimension of good energy management practice is covered.
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