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Accelerating the impact of digital transformation

The path to a sustainable energy landscape and a fully connected future will be driven by data and software

The global energy sector is undergoing a profound transformation, driven by the urgent need to address climate change and foster sustainability. Concurrently, industries worldwide are undergoing a digital revolution, forever transforming the way they operate and make decisions. At the confluence of these two seismic shifts lies the potential to reshape the future.

There can be few boardrooms in the world in which digital transformation has not been discussed. This wave of innovation, accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, has resulted in the widespread take-up of digital tools and technologies. Investments in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI) are soaring, with projected growth of 26.9 per cent in 2023, reaching $154bn.

Digital transformation can respond to a company’s biggest operational challenges

Some experts caution that companies that rush ahead without first considering why they are looking to digitise their assets, processes or operations may find the results less than optimal. “Digital transformation can respond to the biggest operational challenges of the company, or the biggest business opportunities that are ahead,” says Peter Weckesser, EVP and Chief Digital Officer, Schneider Electric, a global company that specialises in digital transformation of energy management and automation. “But it must start with a customer need, a problem statement or a new business value. Only then should you select the technology that best addresses these needs – and makes a lasting, positive impact.”

The second wave of innovation is the electrification of our world in the transition toward a more sustainable future. “Electricity stands as the most efficient and environmentally friendly energy vector,” says Weckesser. “To combat climate change effectively requires a shift from uncontrolled energy consumption – and the resulting waste – to fast, data-driven decisions that enable energy efficiency.” Together with the increasing impact of renewables and prosumers (entities that both consume and produce their energy, encompassing homes and businesses), digitisation enables a flexible and bi-directional grid, accommodating this dynamic energy landscape.

The impact of a synchronised transformation

Digital transformation and the energy transition are now in a synergistic relationship. For the first time ever, everything from the power plant to the plug can be connected, and further enhanced and optimised using industrial AI. This technological and strategic convergence is made possible through breakthrough technologies such as a unified data hub encompassing process, and energy and carbon emissions data.

The use of digital twin technology, too, helps to improve productivity and flexibility as manufacturers can now build and test digital versions of machines before creating the real thing. The underlying technologies driving this innovation are the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing and AI, enabling real-time insights and revealing a wealth of information that can help create efficiencies and drive sustainability initiatives. The potential for improvement is huge.

Data serves as the cornerstone of this transformation. Schneider Electric's approach involves consolidating all enterprise data, including assets, operations, energy and carbon, into a specialised repository. This single data hub unifies disparate data sources, facilitating innovative applications and AI-powered insights. It empowers organisations to optimise operations, drive efficiency and make data-driven decisions, faster.

This is the pathway to our connected future

Schneider Electric and AVEVA, a leading industrial software company, are enabling customers to build a unified data strategy and access powerful software applications. AVEVA’s industrial technology and Connect cloud platform converge with Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure architecture for that purpose. Caspar Herzberg, Chief Executive of AVEVA, says: “We are witnessing a revolution in the global energy sector, which is both driven and facilitated by technology. By building a connected network of intelligence, enhancing that data by applying AI and predictive and prescriptive models, teams are empowered with timely, high-quality insights and decision support.”

This is allowing teams to accelerate engineering processes, ensure reliable operations and manage complex value chains. At scale, it enables industrial businesses to be agile and resilient, building their competitive advantage. “Moreover, owing to the efficiency it brings, it is a key driver of decarbonisation. This is the pathway to our connected future,” says Herzberg.

A great example of this kind of innovation in action is the company Brilliant Planet, which is working with AVEVA and Schneider Electric to sequester carbon using marine algae. Leading-edge engineering software is used to design new facilities, as one of a range of transition technologies for carbon capture that AVEVA is pioneering with customers worldwide. “It’s the combination of technological capabilities and human insight that drives the connected economy,” says Herzberg. “It’s about creating an environment where innovation can thrive, supported by a clear vision for sustainable growth.”

The benefits of innovation are multifaceted: actionable data insights, visibility and real-time awareness enhance quality of work and boost internal efficiency. Yet achieving full potential requires more than technology adoption. A digital mindset needs to begin to change an organisation's culture, says Weckesser, fostering agility and adaptability among its people. “A company culture that embraces change and values agility can be your greatest asset. The technology alone won’t deliver the desired results.” he explains.

Unprecedented capabilities at every step of the journey

It is useful to consider these digital advancements in their entirety, as the overarching repository of all the digital tools that can help accelerate the data-fuelled energy transition at every stage of an asset’s lifecycle. “An asset here could be an office building, an industrial production line or a data centre,” says Weckesser.

From the asset’s design, through construction to operations and maintenance, a unified data hub and software empower decision-makers with unprecedented capabilities: visibility, real-time transparency and even the ability to predict future events. “These tremendous capabilities can come to life through augmented/virtual reality technologies and advanced simulations in which every asset and process can be replicated, tested and optimised through software,” says Weckesser.

This powerful connection between the virtual and real worlds underscores the importance of IoT connectivity, data platforms and software in energy management and industrial automation. These elements can transform operations and address urgent energy and resource efficiency challenges. With data as their bedrock, more and more companies can embrace the future, where digital and physical worlds converge to create an efficient, sustainable and resilient global ecosystem.

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