Electrical manufacturers have consistently improved the efficiency of their products over time—in some cases dramatically. For example, annual electricity use from lighting fell 57 percent from 2001 to 2018 and has been the single largest
contributor to energy efficiency gains this century. Motors, transformers, and many other electrical products are reaching their technologically and economically justifiable efficiency limits. Energy efficiency is no longer a differentiator
for many products; it is a standard feature. Therefore, electrical manufacturers are thinking “beyond efficiency” when developing new products and systems.
The range of the possible is broad: Decarbonization, safety, health, productivity, comfort, data collection, machine learning and analysis all are viable considerations when contemplating providing value to consumers that extends beyond efficiency.
For a place to start, however, NEMA might consider two broad attributes that are of the same nature and scale as our still-valid focus on safe, reliable, and efficient products and systems: resilience and sustainability.
Since many NEMA products are ultimately used in larger systems, we usefully might explore how a product contributes to system-level resilience. This broad category would take different forms in the six electrical Divisions of NEMA. And the Medical
Imaging and Technology Alliance (MITA) Division of NEMA could consider how the use of the right type medical imaging contributes to the resilience of healthcare across that value chain.
Resilient systems can predict, absorb, and quickly recover from disruptions. For example, microgrids and energy storage systems can be used not only for backup power, but can also jump-start the grid by offering so-called “black start”
capability needed to re-power generation facilities after an outage. Another example of system resilience is stockpiling traffic management system replacement parts in geographically strategic locations to ensure streetlights and traffic control
systems can be restored quickly to maintain an orderly flow of traffic in the event of a natural disaster. Yet another example is the use of advanced industrial sensing and artificial intelligence to monitor manufacturing equipment for anomalies
and defects, to predict problems before they arise, and to facilitate restoration of equipment quickly if they do fail.
A second broad consideration is sustainability. If resilience typically relates to a system, sustainability touches on both product manufacturing processes and potential downstream contributions. This can mean maintaining a given activity at a
certain level, but also avoiding the overuse of natural resources or using them in environmentally injurious ways.
For example, volt/VAR optimization (VVO) devices can measure and automatically control voltage levels delivered to electricity customers. In turn generation facilities only have to deliver the minimum required voltage, reducing wasted electricity,
fuel consumption, and emissions in the process. Another instantiation of sustainability is in the idea of the circular economy and end-of-life recyclability, as enabled by electrical products made from more easily recycled components.
In 2021, NEMA will launch a new Strategic Initiative called “Beyond Efficiency” to promote and advocate for technologies and policies that contribute to resiliency and sustainability while delivering positive business outcomes for
Members. Electrical manufacturers have always been innovators, beginning with Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, and George Westinghouse. Today is no different. It is time to move beyond efficiency to our next big challenge. ei
Kevin J. Cosgriff
NEMA President and CEO