Dirty little secret: Automation and control vendors leading fight against carbon emissions

"Green IT," "energy-efficient data centers" or any other term you want to give the effort to reduce the carbon footprint of technology centers is a waste of time and money. OK, I don't mean exactly a waste of time and money but it's not where smart companies focus their limited resources.


"Green IT," "energy-efficient data centers" or any other term you want to give the effort to reduce the carbon footprint of technology centers is a waste of time and money. OK, I don't mean exactly a waste of time and money but it's not where smart companies focus their limited resources. While it might make for some nice PR for a manufacturer to say they have energy-efficient computing facilities, the real opportunities and savings lie in the bowels of their plants.


It's estimated that 2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are related to IT. That leaves a whopping 98 percent of global emissions from other sources. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that nearly 40 percent of the planet's GHG emissions come from industrial manufacturers. Global chemical giant Dow Chemical alone uses more energy every year than The Netherlands. So why do we seemingly only hear about the carbon footprint reductions from high-tech companies like IBM, Cisco, HP, and Dell? The reality—and irony—is that the biggest strides (and still untapped potential) for reducing global energy consumption and emissions are being made by the process control and automation vendors.


Think about this: in 2007 the IEA estimated that if manufacturing industries leveraged existing technologies, including smarter control and automation systems with a particular focus on motors, they could improve their energy efficiency by 18 percent to 26 percent while reducing carbon dioxide by 19 percent to 32 percent. The agency estimated that the cement industry alone could enjoy energy savings of over 30 percent.


What's striking is that these estimates did not even consider newer technologies that were not widely deployed. The good news for manufacturers, consumers, and the planet is that automation vendors have toiled in relative obscurity over the past decade to develop solutions designed to help companies mine, mill, process, manufacture, and produce more efficiently.


Robust process control is at the core of truly sustainable manufacturing. Consider the following:


  • Honeywell's Energy Management Solutions helped Canadian firm Catalyst Paper reduce motor loads by over 50 percent and reduce overall energy usage by 2 percent, saving the company $1 million a year in energy costs.

  • Cooling lubricant firm Blaser Swisslube was able to reduce CO 2 emissions, increase asset uptime, and achieve up to a 45 percent reduction in overall energy costs by using GE Fanuc's Proficy software.

  • Saudi petrochemical giant Sabic was able to make margin-contribution-based, real-time production decisions of optimal raw-material (propylene) allocations by using the predictive intelligence capabilities of the Rockwell Automation Pavlion8 software platform.

  • Industrial firm Hydro Aluminum embarked on an energy optimization program at its plant in Norway, increased energy efficiency while increasing production by 15 percent by leveraging ABB's cpmPlus Energy Manager.


So while the firms you hear about in the press are certainly providing solutions that help the global CO2 problem, the unheralded champions of sustainability are the control and automation vendors. When Pepsi claims that all the electricity used to make their Sun Chips comes from the sun, know that the enabling solutions were developed by the likes of a Siemens, Rockwell Automation, Honeywell, GE Intelligent Platforms, ABB, Invensys, or Emerson. The control and automation vendors: saving the globe one (manufacturing) plant at a time.





Author Information

Bill Polk is a director with Boston-based AMR Research. He has more than 15 years of management experience in the manufacturing, supply chain software, and IT operations industries. He can be reached at bpolk@amrresearch.com .


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