Technology evolution will fuel energy management

Author : Richard Jeffers | Technical Director, Northern Europe | RS Components

03 March 2020


In the industrial environment, working to reduce energy usage has always been an important role for engineering & operational personnel. As Richard Jeffers, Technical Director for RS in Northern Europe tells us, measuring energy consumption may not be a new requirement, but the advent of IIoT technologies has enabled energy consumption to be tracked in real time & immediately correlated to the related operational data.

This article was originally featured in a special supplement on Designing for energy efficiency, brought to you by EPDT & RS Components [read the digital issue].

No longer is there need to wait for historical consumption data to be available – alerts of areas of energy loss can be generated in real time to relevant operators. This could be as simple as a production line consuming energy with no production due to incorrect shutdown, through to live tracking of boiler house efficiency to identify in real time when the boiler is operating below its ideal efficiency curve. 

But with energy efficiency becoming much more important to meet a variety of agendas – from cost savings through to ethical and social responsibilities – what does the future hold when it comes to technologies to aid energy management and predictive maintenance strategies?

Smart becomes smarter

The use of smart handheld devices to allow images to be captured not just in the visible spectrum, but also in infrared, will become more prevalent. This will enable quick identification and localisation of hot and cold spots in the plant where energy is being lost. By using a smart device’s microphone to listen for air leaks, these can be visualised by technicians without the need for specialist training. Live monitoring of electric motor power consumption will make it easier to identify ‘economic’ failures: the motor is still delivering the required output, but at lower than designed efficiency, indicating replacement on economic grounds.

More effective maintenance and repair helps reduce energy consumption. Processes running at high efficiency with fewer planned and unplanned stops consume less energy per unit of production than ones with high levels of losses. The ability to better understand all the data on site can allow production levelling to reduce peak loading on systems such as compressors and boilers – ensuring systems remain operating at the most efficient part of their load curve.

Alternative energy sources gain traction

As well as focusing on energy efficiency and usage reduction, alternative energy sources will become increasingly attractive to the industrial user. The ability to store and use locally generated electricity (solar generated predominantly) will grow with pace as the size of the batteries increases quickly from circa 8kWh today to 60-100kWh in the next few years. This non-EV demand for high capacity energy storage will further drive battery production and accelerate technology advances such as lithium-sulphur, solid-state and carbon-water, all of which offer high energy densities, longer life and potentially lower production costs.

As capacitive storage matures, local wind and solar systems will become more financially attractive, as will harvesting low grade energy in waste heat. Any temperature gradient can be used to do work. At the moment much of this waste heat is dissipated through cooling towers, but the next decade will see innovation in this area beyond just space heating. Innovation in this area is making previously uneconomic projects financially viable through improving the efficiency of these units. Typical technologies include:

• Absorption chillers which use two coolants, the first of which performs evaporative cooling and is then absorbed into the second. Waste heat then resets both coolants to their initial state. A CHP plant connected to an absorption chiller powered HVAC system can achieve very high efficiencies, as the fuel produces power, heat and cooling. Unlike a vapour compression refrigerator, an absorption chiller has few, if any, moving parts, so can achieve high levels of reliability.


• Thermoelectric generators are solid state devices that convert a temperature difference directly into electricity. Used in space probes to convert heat from radioactive decay into power, the improvements in efficiency will make them increasingly attractive for use in ground-based industrial applications. Efficiency improvements from 5-15% are forecasted. Similar is the thermogalvanic cell, which uses two electrodes in an electrolytic fluid, utilising the temperature gradient between the electrodes to generate power.

• Organic Rankine cycle (ORC) systems are similar to normal steam boilers, but use a working medium of organic fluid rather than water, with a much lower boiling point. Efficiencies of around 10% can be achieved with waste heat as cool as 55°C, and, according to Global Insights, the market is set to grow by 17%  by 2024.

Energy management is key in  maintenance strategy

Monitoring energy consumption also holds benefits relating to maintenance, by indicating when all may not be well – whether energy usage is spiking or remaining unusually high – so viewing energy management as a key pillar in any maintenance strategy is crucial.

And when it comes to effective maintenance, the advent of the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has resulted in much talk about the ‘emergence’ of predictive maintenance. However, maintenance professionals have been deploying predictive maintenance techniques for decades, through a range of condition-based monitoring tools. IIoT has and will continue to accelerate this, and some areas where we will see significant change in the next decade are:

• Within the factory, different parts of the control environment often speak different languages, with limited, if any, communication between the environments. This is exacerbated by the fact that individual machine assets usually only have their stop/start signals integrated into the wider environment – rich data about the health of the machine is often locked into the machine, possibly accessed through an HMI, or not at all. The emergence of common bus protocols, such as OPC-UA, will make it easier to aggregate data trapped within an asset, giving greater insight into the asset.

• The costs of sensors is falling, but the cost of wiring remains fairly static. As long as every sensor requires dedicated, wired, point-to-point communication to the I/O, the reduced cost of the sensor will not translate to reduced installed sensor costs. However, the twin development of wired point-to-point protocols, such as IO-Link, and near field (RFID, Bluetooth) and far field (industrial Wi-Fi, LP-WAN) wireless communications mean that the installation cost of sensors will fall, making new data sets more affordable.

• Presently, industrial customers are taking a ‘security through obscurity’ approach to cybersecurity, restricting industrial connectivity to the internet, despite the fact that Industry 3.0 saw a growth in point-to-point internet connectivity within industrial sites. The increasing threat of cyber-attack will have the unexpected benefit of raising awareness of the existing attack vectors in industrial sites, leading to growth in skills around cybersecurity within industry and a desire to replace insecure networks with secure ones, designed to communicate effectively with the cloud.

• Once process and condition data is aggregated on-site through a common bus, and the site is securely connected to the cloud, opportunities exist to bring in other data sets, such as enterprise and market data. This gives greater richness to the machine data and enables better interpretation of the machine data, as well as easing direct integration with the site’s maintenance management platform.

• In our personal lives, we are fully conversant with smart devices. Security concerns, and legacy thinking have restricted their deployment in an industrial environment. However, the next 10 years should see these hurdles being overcome, and consumer-like technology being deployed into industrial sites – giving the operators and maintainers access not just to all their plant data, but also a range of supplier and market supporting data.

There are a number of areas where IIoT technologies stand on the cusp of delivering significant change to the world of maintenance during the next decade, making it easier to collect data, make decisions and then drive action on the back of that data. Energy management will be a key part of this, with optimal efficiency being an increasingly achievable goal.

Comparison of a typical 2020 and probable 2030 factory:

Typical 2020 Factory

2030 Future Factory

Multiple operating systems & information platforms Single, integrated, data architecture from the device layer, through the control layer and into the enterprise layer
Access to only limited slices of the available data; data only available to limited people Single, aggregated, data lake giving everyone who needs it access to all the data
Offline condition monitoring of assets, with no integration to other maintenance systems Online condition monitoring, where appropriate, with expert systems generating insight from the data, including the relevant maintenance & operational data
Multiple legacy attack vectors from industry 3.0 attempts to address communication issues Fully secure integrated communication architecture, allowing seamless data transfer between factory & cloud
Communication within the site predominately through email & paper-based systems Communication through human interaction, enabled by smart devices; technicians can scan asset QR codes to pull up relevant static & dynamic data, with simple interfaces in the maintenance management platform to capture & address issues
Asset information stored on paper, individual drives or lost – no integration back to the OEM Mobile condition monitoring integrated into the smart device, allowing technicians to capture additional, ad hoc data

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