Factory of the Future: Creating Sustainable Industries

Peter Herweck, Executive VP,  Industrial Automation, Schneider Electric on combining digitalisation & electricity for sustainable industries of the future

The pandemic has forever changed our everyday lives and the world around us. We all now hold a different perspective of our surroundings, with vulnerability to natural phenomenon becoming more tangible. 

While population growth, urbanization and globalization have driven the spread of the virus, these factors have also increased CO2 emissions and caused other negative environmental effects. Despite the need to focus on current challenges, we cannot forget about those in our future. Climate change is the single biggest challenge  of all time, with almost two thirds of people around the world now viewing it as a global emergency. We can simply no longer ignore it. 

In fact, we are the generation most capable of solving it. We actually might be the last generation that can change the course of the future and make the right steps to solving climate change. It is our job to use our knowledge and the tools around us to carry us through the fight for climate stability. These tools consist of new technologies which can lead to stronger resiliency. The two keys to solving this dilemma are: digital technology and electricity. 

A Virtually Unlimited Future 

The most prominent innovation that is transforming humanity is digital technology. Think about the way digital technologies have revolutionized the way we work together and the way we live together. Episode one of the Internet was about connecting people with people. The next episode will be about revolutionizing the way we live and connect with our environment. It's going to be about machine to machine and people to machines. This is made possible by the combination of the Internet of Things (IoT), which is connecting everything around us, and Big Data, which is about collecting, aggregating, and analyzing large amounts of information in data centers to provide significant insights. And today, the capacity to train machines and use algorithms to make sense from all this data is virtually unlimited.

Digitalization is already creating a more desirable future⎯a human-centric existence with smart homes, smart buildings, smart manufacturing, smart infrastructure, and smart cities. These innovations use data and digital technologies to help us better share and conserve the resources we are consuming. 

Moving Forward with Green Electricity

The second technology, which is probably less intuitive because it’s been around for many years, is green electricity. Think about solar energy, microgrids, net-zero building, and electric vehicles. Electricity is the only way to decarbonize energy, so be prepared for a world that will be much more electric. But going forward, it's not going to be the same electricity. It’s going to be renewable electricity. The future is green.

Key Steps to a Sustainable Future 

At Schneider Electric, we’ve been working with many thinktanks and other companies to find the equation that drives us from where we are today to the resilient sustainable future we need. 

We see four simple variables in the equation:

  1. Digital. We can be much more efficient everywhere, thanks to digital. By applying digital technology, whether it be smart buildings, smart manufacturing, or smart cities everywhere, we can achieve step changes in efficiency from what we are today.
  2. Circular. This is about making sure that everything we do cultivates a more circular economy than the one we have today.
  3. Electric. In the coming years, the proportion of electricity in everything will double. We speak a lot about electricity but today it’s only about 20 percent of the energy we consume. In 20 years, it’s going to double to 40 percent.
  4. Renewable. Today, electricity is only six percent renewable. Soon, it’s going to be 40 percent renewable. 

And it's not about waiting for one of these variables to happen to start focusing on another one. We must do all of them in parallel. We cannot wait because everything we build today will be here for years to come. If we want to tackle climate change, we must implement all those changes now. 

Sustainability builds Resiliency

The pandemic and climate change are the biggest threats to the future of our society. It is vital that we step up and create a sustainable world, with resiliency at the heart. Keeping pace with the current momentum is essential to achieving a truly sustainable resilient future that is so important to the whole world. 

COVID-19 may have altered our focus, but it has highlighted the necessity for agility and adaptation. With the economy being under constant pressure, it has served as a wake up call for increasing awareness and sustainability in the long term. Companies need to acknowledge that they can do better and must prioritize sustainability throughout their business as a whole.  

The key is to understand how and where energy is consumed, lost or wasted and here digital technologies are vital. Sensors that can monitor performance, software that can connect operations with IT systems, automation and analytics will equip organisations and individuals alike with the ability to better manage and optimise their environment whether at work or home. The good news is that these technologies already exist – it is up to organisations to adapt and embrace them to guarantee sustainability in the future. 


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