Global energy investment amounted to more than USD 1.8 trillion in 2018, but using energy efficiently remains a key area of growth. This is according to the International Energy Agency’s latest annual review, World Energy Investment 2019. Investment in energy efficiency and renewables has not kept pace in recent years, suggesting that sustainable development goals such as those outlined in the Paris Agreement are moving further out of reach.
Until governments provide funding and enforce energy efficiency policies on home soil, it remains up to businesses themselves to make the call to reduce their energy consumption. Fortunately, significant efficiencies can be achieved using a combination of technology and renewable energy. Businesses can see a return on their investment within a few years, and bring about far-reaching and positive change for society.
How can technology help reduce energy consumption?
It goes without saying that updating old and inefficient systems can improve production processes and quality. But artificial intelligence (AI) technologies have evolved to be able to do so much more.
In buildings and factories, AI can monitor and collect information about energy consumption in the form of numbers, text, images and videos. Evaluating what is observed, AI can manage energy usage, reducing it during peak hours, for example. Problems such as bottlenecks can be identified and equipment failures detected – even before they happen.
On a larger scale, AI has the ability to compress and analyse data to predict future problems, and ultimately optimise energy consumption in the long term.
While this surpasses what has previously been possible for humans to do alone, it still requires the personal touch. Technicians need to be trained to tailor each AI solution to address specific problems in their own processes.
This technology may come at a cost, but savings as a result of efficiencies can be significant – up to 60% promised by some players – so it can pay for itself within a short period of time.
Using AI in the industrial sector
As most factories and production facilities are energy intensive, AI and data-mining can be of particular benefit as a means to reduce consumption. A large amount of the electricity generated worldwide – worth billions of dollars – is not actually used. Efficiencies in the industrial sector in particular can be achieved in the following ways:
- Forecasting energy demand and managing the output accordingly. This can help to reduce reliance on fuel, or manage its consumption, thereby also reducing emissions.
- Reducing breakdowns. AI uses data and analytics about operations to forecast any possible failures of critical energy infrastructure.
- Managing power grids. Some AI applications are designed to handle multiple energy sources such as solar, wind and fossil fuels.
- Maximising plant outputs by optimising processes.
- Reducing energy used for heating and cooling.
- Reducing utility costs (such as for compressed air, nitrogen and water) by optimising performance and identifying maintenance issues ahead of time.
Looking at renewable energy to close the circle
In addition to AI and data-driven technologies, manufacturers are increasingly looking at renewable energy to be more competitive in the clean energy space.
In manufacturing, heating systems are central to production, turning raw materials into products. Renewable energies offer the most effective method for efficiencies here. They include the likes of on-site wind power generation instead of relying on grid power; using gas engines or turbines to produce electricity and heat (reducing energy bills by as much as 45%); and solar water and air heating. Energy savings can result in a payback period of a few years.
The greater good
In addition to the clear benefits of cost-saving, reducing energy consumption will also have positive knock-on effects for the environment and global community.
The industrial sector is responsible for generating a massive amount of pollution, one of the greatest challenges we face in a world that needs buildings to be powered, lit, heated and cooled. But using cleaner, more efficient and renewable energy for manufacturing means less waste, working to mitigate its impact on the environment and human health. Growing awareness about the long-term harmful effects of pollution has boosted the demand for clean, affordable and reliable energy, and resulted in proactive strategies to reduce and offset it. Investing in energy efficiency can also bring other benefits to businesses, such as reducing their carbon footprint and getting closer to carbon-related targets.
With all the innovative technologies on hand to reduce energy usage and combat climate change, a sustainable future seems more attainable.
Want to look at energy efficiency in your own business? You can save as much as 60% of your energy consumption. Contact Maximpact for an energy audit and action plan, advice on buying new equipment, thermal energy studies, gap analysis, training, renewable energy systems and AI. Also find out more about data-driven AI technologies and renewable energy solutions in the following sectors: chemical and pharmaceutical, cement, aluminium, plastic, dairy, meat and brewery.