Energy is the current revolution. We have all become accustomed to the use of a lot of energy in our daily lives. I write this blog while sitting in my local BMW dealership, surrounded by nice new shiny cars that consume lots of gasoline. The technology in these cars today though is incredible, with new cars each year achieving much higher level of efficiencies than ever before. It is still however a matter of time. Most of the energy that we burn whether in cars or in our homes and daily lives comes from non-renewable sources, well, that is unless you want to wait a couple of million more years… My own BMW is about 8 years old, still going, and I don’t want to replace it. I want to see what alternatives there can be, both technology wise and market wise coming in the near future. The investment in another gas guzzler does not seem quite right, right now. Technology had better hurry up though, planet or no planet, I do not want to be stuck by the side of the road after being on a long-haul business trip!
Alternative energy sources are now growing, but, they all come with some restrictions. Solar power is great but only when the sun shines, wind power only when it is windy, tidal power four times a day, hydro-electricity only where it rains. The demand for electricity is not dependant of course on these same factors. Domestically, huge power demand surges happen during commercial breaks in popular TV soap operas. During the day, industry is the main user, a growing amount of which is air-conditioning, so variable with temperature. We still have not found a technology that we can use to store electricity on the scale needed with the response time required. We have to produce it according to demand. This severely restricts the ability for the alternative technologies to gain share.
We can see where this is going. For many years we have seen in many countries “night rates” of electricity which encourage us to run things like washers, dryers and water heaters over night at a cheaper rate. The drive for the introduction of alternatively sourced energy is strong in the Scandinavian countries. Here, already we are seeing electricity being charged as a “spot rate” – continuously variable rates for industry according to the supply and demands. To make this work practically needs the consumers of energy to take note of the price fluctuations and optimise their usage. In Japan following the recent earthquakes, power is at a premium, there is also now considerable motivation to optimise the power usage profile.
In manufacturing then, what can be done? Is there variation in the amount of energy that different products or processes need? Could planning of the shop-floor be altered so as to take account of the expected energy price fluctuations? Perhaps we should start measuring the amount of energy that is used per product, and, the amount of energy wasted through inefficiency. If lines are not running for any reason, can we put them into a stand-by mode to save power? The Valor MSS system is certainly poised to be able to do this, to understand what is being built on what processes at any time. It would take a very simple addition to make a report based on sensors of electricity usage.
Are there people out there who are thinking about this energy issue? Should we be building in the tools for energy and cost of energy analysis? Would manufacturing companies pay money to buy the hardware and software tools to do this? I want to know. Please comment about his blog. Let’s see how much we are really thinking about the future…………