Simon Mouat has worked in the energy, communications and technology sectors for more than 25 years – and during that time he’s witnessed huge changes. ES&D catches up Schneider Electric’s vice president of Energy Business to talk about technology, ageing assets and the rise of the ‘prosumer’.
What is your vision for the energy sector here in Australia?
Schneider Electric’s global brand platform is Life is On, which means life is on for everyone, everywhere at every time. Within the context of the energy sector this certainly rings true for me. Energy has the power to propel people out of poverty, improve economic conditions, and provide a better quality of life for billions of people. Here in Australia, Schneider Electric is leading the movement to create a more efficient, sustainable, and connected world. With a drive for carbon footprint reduction and the need to reduce energy costs – our safe, reliable, affordable, and clean energy solutions empower industries and cities every day to deliver a better quality of life.
What is the biggest change you’ve witnessed in the energy sector during your career?
The advancement and proliferation of technology – from handheld devices to transportation and industrial machinery – has redefined our energy requirements. Human prosperity now depends on the ability of power networks to deliver energy 24/7 around the globe. There is also growing recognition that we need to manage our energy use in a more sustainable way and reduce our carbon footprint. Our response to these challenges has presented perhaps the biggest change of all; the inversion of the traditional utility model as we know it. We are seeing movement from a centralised, one-way energy grid to a distributed, localised, interdependent and smarter one.
What opportunities does the smart grid offer?
Every day, the expectations of consumers in regards to energy supply increases in terms of grid reliability and energy’s environmental impact. To address these growing expectations, the way energy is produced, distributed, and consumed must evolve. This new utility model involves both smarter demand and smarter supply. These solutions will also allow utilities to overcome many challenges: reduction of peak demand, optimisation of renewable energy resources, improvement of fault and outage management, minimisation of network losses, enhancement of asset management, and compliance to regulatory requirements, to name just a few of the key drivers.
What are the major energy challenges facing businesses today?
Having recently joined Schneider Electric, my first priority was to speak with as many customers as possible; to get under the skin of their business, understand what drives them and what’s holding them back. Our customers are diverse, ranging from the utilities, oil and gas and mining industries through to transportation and infrastructure. While each customer faced challenges unique to their business, three key themes did emerge:
1. Energy efficiency: while the use of energy is critical to growth, businesses are all under pressure to cut costs. Identifying inefficiencies and implementing energy management solutions, such as automation, can cut energy bills by up to 30 per cent;
2. Upgrading ageing infrastructure: the stability and resiliency of electric grids are under the stress of increased energy demand, fluctuating markets, natural disasters and cyber attacks; the swift replacement or retrofit of smart grid technology is key;
3. Local generation and storage; more businesses than ever before are keen to understand how they can become “prosumers” – energy consumers who take control of their energy consumption, generating their own supply and using it on-site or selling it back to the grid.
How can we overcome barriers to the integration of renewables into the grid?
As new sources of local production come online – driven by the rise of the prosumer – utilities are struggling to find effective ways to combine traditional power sources with renewables, without compromising the way the network operates. Renewable energy integration presents challenges for utilities such as variable supply, costly equipment upgrades, as well as supporting the emergence of significant new loads like electric vehicles. Nevertheless, these challenges are surmountable. Renewable energy prices are falling and advanced technologies are becoming more accessible – as are improved energy storage capabilities. While the roadmap can seem unclear, experienced intermediaries and the right technology mix can make the transition much easier.