Matt Collins explains how business can use smart power equipment to manage costs and emissions

In recent years, environmental agencies across the globe have increased pressure on businesses to reduce their carbon emissions. With hefty costs in place for exceeding carbon limits, plant and site managers must find new ways of minimising their ecological footprints.

The rising concern of global climate change in the past two decades has undoubtedly been one of the biggest factors affecting modern manufacturing. Whether it is by investing in more renewable power sources or recycling older equipment, companies are constantly urged to make strategic business decisions based around sustainability.

However, this poses a challenge for many companies operating in the manufacturing and construction sectors. While process and equipment efficiency has increased substantially in recent years to reduce the amount of energy required, the always-on culture of most industrial plants means that high electrical usage is unavoidable. So, what can managers and engineers do to reduce emissions?

Going green
One of the more popular approaches plant managers take to reducing the carbon footprint of electrical usage is by switching to more renewable sources. In the UK, for example, thousands of businesses have already taken the step of installing on-site solar panels to reduce their costs and emissions.

It’s easy to see why this is a popular choice among plant and site managers. In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, using onsite solar panels reduces the plant’s operating costs and yields a strong return on investment. Yet, while this is a step in the right direction, it may not necessarily have the desired effect for industrial businesses.

Due to the amount of electricity required in the daily operation of a factory, using onsite renewable energy only goes part way to curbing carbon emissions. It does result in reduced costs and emissions overall, but it does not address the root cause of the high emissions — usage.

Managing power usage
To sustainably minimise their carbon footprint, electrical engineers and plant managers must monitor the electrical draw of their equipment and set actions to reduce it. For example, many construction sites operate on a 12-hour working day. Outside of these hours, power generation units are commonly left on to provide electricity to site cabins for workers, which results in a significantly elevated energy cost and carbon footprint. This is because these units often power more than just the cabin, meaning other connected equipment draws electricity despite not being in use.

Plant managers can keep tabs on their energy usage by investing in smart energy meters, which provide information on the cost and emission levels of a facility. However, these only provide information about the usage itself rather than insight into what is driving up costs.

It is for this reason that we have recently seen a growing trend of manufacturing and construction managers investing in smart electrical equipment. These are systems that allow engineers and managers to remotely observe the output of electrical equipment and identify what applications, if any, are drawing energy outside of normal parameters.

In our construction site example, the generators left on to power the site cabins will be supplying energy by way of a power distribution board. These boards are responsible for distributing power to each subsequent application, such as cabin lighting or industrial equipment. To minimise carbon emissions and energy costs, all output sockets on the distribution board that are not feeding cabins must be switched off.

Unfortunately, this has traditionally only been achieved through the lengthy process of checking in on all boards before closing up the site for the day. As many of the construction workers are likely to be contractors, managers would be responsible for doing this.

However, managers using smart electrical distribution boards would be able to perform this task remotely. Each socket on a smart distribution board is fitted with a multimeter that monitors energy usage and relays this information to the manager’s laptop or smart phone. Managers can then identify the exact location of the board using its GSM functionality to manually disconnect the load.

Interestingly, the development of smart technology has allowed managers to do much more than simply pinpoint elevated consumption. Smart electrical equipment manufactured by ide Systems, for example, is designed to give managers full control over sockets remotely. If a socket is found to be drawing load when it shouldn’t be, managers can use their smart phone to turn it off remotely.

Of course, the end goal for managers is to create a culture where power is managed effectively and equipment is not left drawing energy while not in use. However, a culture such as this takes years to build and, in the meantime, does not meet the environmental agency’s expectations of lower emissions. Managers and electrical engineers that invest in smart electrical equipment can actively ensure that their energy usage and carbon footprint are both kept to a minimum. v

Matt Collins
Matt Collins is business development manager of power distribution specialist ide Systems. ide Systems is an integrated electrical engineering company and a recognised name in the design and manufacture of permanent and temporary power distribution equipment for events and onsite backup power. The company is committed to the quality electrical engineering of both core and bespoke products, distributed across the whole of the UK and Europe for sales and hire.