Alternative Energy

The next step to carbon neutrality

5th August 2021
Joe Bush

According to a new Carbon Brief analysis, the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 were 51% below 1990 levels, largely down to the country’s COVID slowdown. The figures mean the UK is now halfway to meeting its target of net-zero emissions by 2050.

However, emissions are likely to rebound as the economy recovers. Here, Garry Forfar, Energy & Infrastructure Sales Manager at automation software supplier COPA-DATA UK, explains the role industrial software can play in achieving the net-zero target.

The driving force behind these efforts to reduce emissions are often corporate and social responsibility, rather than government mandated targets. More companies are making the switch to renewable energy and subsequently promoting their green initiatives at a corporate level, influencing others to act in the same way. For example, Brewdog has become the first carbon neutral brewery and has inspired other breweries to look for ways to reduce their carbon footprint. Corporate initiatives or government mandate aside, businesses have a key role to play in the green transition.

Energy data management systems (EDMS)

Most companies have already taken small steps to reduce energy usage. Many have changed assets such as light bulbs to LEDs and soft starters to variable speed drives (VSDs), which is now considered as fixing the basics. Most sites even have power meters measuring power consumption throughout their facility, although these are rarely connected and are often overlooked.

The next step is to install software to connect to these existing energy meters. This brings all energy consumption data into one place, allowing for accurate monitoring and reporting of a company’s energy usage.

For example, COPA-DATA’s zenon automation software allows for the implementation of an EDMS, ensuring companies fully understand energy usage to reduce their carbon footprint. Companies can then actively update energy usage practices to improve efficiency, by digitalising data and providing practical evidence of energy usage, from environmental impacts to money spent.

Energy independence to reduce footprint

Microgeneration is becoming an increasingly common method for manufacturers to independently manage energy usage and costs.

A microgrid, or a small-scale energy generation site, can include solar panels, small scale wind turbines and combined heat and power installations to generate heat and electricity. Unlike large renewable plants, a microgrid can consist of just one wind turbine or a small number of solar panels. Typically, these are designed to produce just enough energy to power the business in question, or a group of businesses in proximity.

These hold huge potential to lower electricity prices for businesses. In fact, microgrids are estimated to save between 21% and 30% on total energy costs, with onshore wind being the cheapest form of electricity generation.

In addition, they also offer the opportunity to deploy more zero-emission electricity sources, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Using an advanced EDMS, like zenon, is essential for companies. It can help to balance generation from non-controllable renewable power sources - such as solar - with distributed, controllable generation like natural gas-fuelled combustion turbines.

For instance, zenon can help with load shedding - the distribution of demand for electrical power across multiple power sources - when needed to keep demand in line with targets. Alternatively, the software can help bring in power from non-renewable sources if load shedding is not an option.

After all, not monitoring every kilowatt hour (kWh) used, and not turning off supplies when no longer required, makes it impossible to take full advantage of a microgrid. And although microgrids are a heavy investment into energy technology, there are straightforward routes manufacturers can take to help reduce their carbon emissions.

One way is for manufacturers to use software, like zenon, ensuring the monitoring of energy usage is achieved affordably. This easier and more cost-effective route can help to reduce carbon footprint, assisting the UK to reach its net-zero carbon emissions target by 2050 - or even sooner.

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