Dr. Petr Hermann, Schneider Electric: Fully Smart Infrastructure Can Be a Reality Now
Date: October 12th 2020
Author: Alenka Lena Klopčič
“The energy future will be decentralised, decarbonised, digitised and more electric. In addition, everything will be more integrated in terms of lifecycle management, from planning and operation to maintenance and modernisation. Fully smart infrastructure can be a reality now as the technologies exist and pilots of fully integrated smart infrastructure also exist in different regions,” said Dr. Petr Hermann, the president of the Schneider Electric cluster for Southeast Europe (SEE) and one of the key managers of Schneider Electric's direct solutions and services in the field of energy management and industrial automation, in response to Energetika.NET’s question on the energy future. Energetika.NET conducted a video interview with Dr. Hermann on 7 October, a day before Schneider Electric’s Innovation Summit 2020, which took place online. It is clear that the main topic of the interview was – well – the energy future.“Up to 80% of the world’s emissions are caused by the energy we are using, and the world’s needs for energy is growing faster than ever before. The need for greater efficiency is obvious, but 60% of our energy use is currently inefficient, meaning it is often lost or wasted. Many technologies used in energy management, such as MV switchgears, are not as yet environmentally friendly as switchgears with SF6 gas, which has a high global warming potential (GWP). For example, our green SF6-free technology for MV switchgears offers a sustainable approach by combining pure air insulation, vacuum technology and digital capabilities. It is environmentally friendly and delivers solid and proven solutions for a safer network, explained Hermann in his response to Energetika.NET’s introductory question on the energy future – what will it look like and when will we finally have 100% ‘smart infrastructure’ surrounding us?
He believes that, despite the fact that “fully smart infrastructure can be a reality now”, the infrastructure built twenty years from now will differ a lot from that built in the next year or two. “IT and energy, for example, will be fully integrated serving our needs well – affordably, reliably, smartly, safely and sustainably.”
Since the future stems from past…
Since the future stems from past, Energetika.NET asked Hermann, who between 2008 and 2012 worked in Ljubljana as general manager of Schneider Electric for Slovenia, what has changed since 2008 in the field of energy management and industrial automation.
So, how do countries in South East Europe (SEE) differ from each other in terms of energy efficiency in the industry? “The potential to improve energy efficiency in industry is everywhere,” replied Hermann, adding that “in the less developed countries of SEE, there is still a lot of potential even in the basics, as, for example, the control of the consumption of motors can be reduced simply, reliably and efficiently with very short payback. By the way, electric motors consume 45% of the total electricity produced.” Therefore, in the more developed countries of SEE, such as Slovenia, it is already more about the digital integration of energy management with industrial automation and optimisation of overall operational efficiency, he explained, adding that he does not really see any differences in this regard between SEE countries and the rest of the European countries in terms of access to advanced digital technologies. These are easily accessible across the whole of Europe.
“It is more about turning systematic and supported investments into innovations – with government support – and also about the cultivation of innovative entrepreneurship, such as established start-up hubs, collaboration between industries and universities, and, last but not least, a deregulated energy market open to prosumers and other entrepreneurs. These are the areas where countries from SEE need to catch up,” believes Hermann.
He added that he “absolutely” recognises the EU's EUR 750 billion budget to address the direct economic and social damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic and to drive a sustainable recovery as being the path to the changes required. “I believe that it is a great initiative from EU leaders not only to fight the crisis caused by COVID-19 but also to provide the European economy with a competitive edge in term of innovations, digitisation and sustainability. Such funding can enable us to benefit from digitalisation and the development of cutting-edge innovations such as artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality, hyperautomation, digital twins, edge Computing, and others.”
People are a pillar of the highway forward
In response to the question of what role people or users play in Schneider Electric’s developing ecosystem, Hermann confirmed that people play the most critical role in its success. Based on that, the company has even set a goal to be the most attractive employer in the industry with an innovative, proactive, diverse, lean, engaged team that collaborates in its aim for bold ambitions in the SEE region. When it comes to COVID-19, he mentioned that even prior to the outbreak, the company enabled its employees to work partially from home, whereas now the majority of its employees – except those at production plants or distribution centres who need to physically work at the premises – work extensively from home.
In this regard, Hermann mentioned a recent employees’ survey which showed that people would also prefer to have the possibility to work from home in the future. In fact, most of the company’s employees prefer flexibility between working from home and the office and Schneider Electric is ready to move towards this trend, he said.
Negawatts to become the most efficient energy source
Returning to the subject of smart infrastructure and its resources, Hermann stressed that “the most efficient energy source is in energy savings – the negawatt hours. “Each unit saved on electricity consumption represents some three units saved from energy resources to produce electricity. The potential to save energy efficiently is still huge,” he emphasised.
“Beyond this, the key energy resources for smart infrastructure will clearly be renewables, such as solar or wind together with waste or biomass. In terms of environmental sustainability, we must also not forget about the potential of the circular economy, the aim of which is to achieve a closed loop system minimising inputs of new resources and maximising the reuse, remaking, and recycling of waste. Smart integrated technologies applied to full lifecycle management are accelerating our ability to efficiently leverage the circular economy concept.”
“Data provide the foundation for smart buildings – allowing buildings to tell stories,” said one of the energy experts in a recent interview for Energetika.NET, while Hermann agreed, adding:” Yes, smart building should tell us how they should be optimally used and operated, while maintaining a secure high level of user friendliness and comfort. Building occupancy management and self-energy production offer huge untapped potential, as does the optimisation of their consumption. Of course, when all building technologies, users and connected networks will be fully integrated and smart, each building will have its own story and self-optimise around it.”
Schneider Electric has opened its first innovation centre in Eastern Europe, aimed at visitors from all countries in the region and beyond who can not only visit the centre physically but also virtually. “The Innovation Centre has a presentation area where visitors can have a ‘live’ experience of internet of things (IoT) technologies, not just IoT technologies from Schneider Electric, but from other companies as well that are working on the cybersecure platform EcoStruxure. The new exhibition-smart factory is located in Plovdiv, Bulgaria,” announced the company in mid-August this year (MORE).
Hermann cited the following as the company’s vision for the smart future in energy management and automation:
- Energy management and automation
- From the end point of any connected device to the Cloud
- From design and build to operate and maintain
- From site by site to integrated company management
“This is why we offer our customers integrated solutions within the IoT enabled open ECOSTRUXURE platform, which provides connected devices, edge control, apps, analytics and software – all of which are connected seamlessly – as well as cyber security. This way we enable our customers to leverage the advantages of the digital transformation and to manage their infrastructure in a smart way,” explained Hermann.
“Just imagine the potential if all the construction – from civil through to mechanical and electrical to automation – is designed digitally and fully integrated, then the design is used for seamless and efficient construction and later used as digital twin,” he continued.
… to being ‘the most local of the leading global companies’
Thinking of a potential second ‘corona-wave’, Hermann announced that the company will remain focused on providing the best solutions and services to its customers, developing employees, and powering and digitising the economy. “Our solutions and services are essential for critical infrastructure, such as hospitals, data and energy networks. This brings us a lot of potential as well as responsibility.”
“We also want to remain ‘the most local of the leading global companies.’ Leverage on a global scale, further developing our already very strong portfolio of expertise local partners, and efficiently bringing all our digital innovations to our common end customers,” concluded Hermann.
This article is available also in Slovene.