Building Back Stronger: Reimagining Sustainability Amid the ‘New Normal’
As economies and societies around the world move towards a ‘new normal’, industrial businesses have a unique opportunity to build back more sustainably and, in turn, stronger.
A key enabler is a ‘whole-of-building’ approach to reducing energy consumption, operating costs and improving performance.
Until recently, it was assumed that certain sub-systems, such as Low Voltage (LV) switchgear, were challenging to make sustainable, but thanks to a period of technical innovation, this is now possible.
Here, Ronald van Leeuwen, Global Product Manager for IEC low-voltage switchgear – ABB Distribution Solutions, advises on the opportunity for industrial operators to reimagine their sustainable journey and the latest advances in sustainable LV switchgear which can help.
An unlikely consequence of the global pandemic is that it has brought the plight of the planet to the fore. With the unprecedented disruption to economic activity resulting in significant environmental gains, consumers and businesses alike have become much more aware of the impact that industry has on the environment.
One need only look at the stark improvements in air pollution brought about by the first lockdowns – in northern India, the Himalayas were visible at distance for the first time in a generation, while London saw UK nitrogen dioxide decrease by as much as 31 percent.1
The result is a much greater focus on building back more sustainably as societies and economies around the world pivot towards a new “normal”.
This is supported by global governments who have declared an environment-focused recovery to the pandemic that tackles the climate and nature crises. Although the last year has upended claims and accelerated timescales around Net Zero, the green agenda will once again ascent as a priority ahead of the United Nations COP26 summit. Part of this will centre on the urgent progress needed to reduce carbon emissions from industry which currently account for 21 percent of emissions worldwide.1
For the industrial operator this adds new pressure to lessen its environmental impact. Of course, for those who have faced declining demand and major operational disruption over the past year, it may not seem the obvious priority. However, the reality is that the Covid-19 recovery window offers a rare opportunity to accelerate their eco transition and future-proof.
Key to this is a ‘whole-of-building’ approach to energy consumption, where all elements of infrastructure and design interconnect to maximize efficiencies and carbon reductions.
Inherently though, this hasn’t always been possible for certain subsystems, such as Low Voltage (LV) switchgear, which were challenging to make more sustainable. For example, the continued use of thick internal bare copper bars to distribute current which – due to the material’s skin effect – will cause AC-losses and negatively impact on the energy consumption of a switchgear.
This is all changing with the arrival of the market’s next generation of switchgear.
A product of extensive research and innovation, the newly updated NeoGear from ABB, ‘NeoGear Digital’, revolutionizes sustainability in the switchgear category.
Unique to market, the range uses an innovative laminated copper plate technology which offers all the performance integrity of traditional busbar while negating the associated AC-losses. The result is an overall energy efficiency improvement by up to 25 percent. A benchmark study of a traditional switchgear versus a NeoGear solution showed that the reduction in AC-losses can save up to 9000 kg of CO2 annually.
It is also incredibly compact compared to traditional systems, with the number of electrical connections reduced by almost 90 percent and the space required for the bar by 50 percent. This enables huge space savings, plus a reduced switchgear footprint of up to 25 percent.
Importantly, this approach can also significantly increase cooling efficiency in LV switch rooms, where conditioning systems are used to maintain the standard room temperature needed to ensure product performance and longevity. Primarily, this is because the absence of AC-losses reduces by up to 20 percent the energy needed to condition the switchgear ambient temperature. More so, because NeoGear can be housed in a much smaller space there is less volume to be cooled.
Safety is accounted for too. The safest switchgear on the market, NeoGear’s revolutionary design eliminates hazardous exposure to live parts and uses 92 percent fewer busbar components than traditional switchgear. An arc ignition protected zone keeps maintenance personnel safer when performing routine works and repairs, while also reducing the risk of arcs caused by mechanical failures – one of the most serious safety risks that switchgear operators encounter.
As well as improved safety, class-leading sustainability credentials and unrivalled performance, NeoGear Digital builds on ABB’s proven NeoGear platform with the latest connectivity capabilities for data analytics and data communication, making it the ideal low-voltage switchgear option for facilities working towards achieving Industry 4.0 standards. NeoGear Digital delivers up to 30 percent lower overall operational costs compared to switchgear without digital capabilities thanks to more efficient condition monitoring – making it a revolutionary step forward for sustainable switchgear.
Of course, switchgear is a serious investment. However, achieving optimized energy efficiency requires a holistic, whole-of-building approach. By taking advantage of this new opportunity to introduce sustainable switchgear, operators can add commercial value throughout the lifecycle of a project and improve their sustainability credentials amid a more eco-aware clientele.
Yes, it is a challenging time for industry as it embarks on the journey towards decarbonization. But it’s also an opportunistic one. By taking advantage of the latest technological breakthroughs, operators can unleash greater carbon savings and benefit from the latest connectivity capabilities, as the world looks ahead to a safer, smarter and more sustainable future.