June 2022 / Vol. 27 No.6
Over the last two years, digitalization has gone mainstream. Telehealth, online school, work from home, and Zoom yoga are now a part of everyday life. Everywhere you look, we’re finding new, and digital, ways to connect.
And yet, there’s so much more left to digitize across the country. The buildings industry remains one of the least digitized. That should concern us, given that it accounts for 76 percent of all U.S. electricity consumption and we spend nearly 90 percent of our lives indoors.
Meanwhile, only 5 percent of warehouses use sophisticated automation systems. Even though we’re in a new era of e-commerce and near-instant delivery, the scene in most logistics facilities is people moving boxes — like they’ve done for decades — without any software driving efficiencies.
Across the value chain, the electroindustry needs to continue pushing for more digitalized products, customer experiences, and facilities.
Why? Two main reasons. First, digitalization drives productivity and competitiveness. After all, emergent digital business models were principal drivers in knocking half the Fortune 500 companies from 2000 off the list by 2016. It’s a matter of “disrupt or be disrupted.”
Second, it’s about finding ways to do more with less energy and fewer resources. Let’s face it: We need to change the emissions and energy consumption trajectories we’re on today. How do we do that while still improving on a high standard of living and providing access to energy for all?
Energy efficiency, the unsung hero of decarbonization, is a good place to start. Efficiency alone could cut U.S. emissions by 57 percent. Our country wastes over 60 percent of all energy generated each year. We cannot continue consuming — and wasting — as much energy as we do and still limit global warming to well below 2°C.
Digitalization unlocks decarbonization by making huge amounts of previously invisible energy waste visible. When you design, build, and operate with digital as a default, you can create office buildings that use one-tenth the average amount of energy. Many of the smartest factories on Earth, recognized by the World Economic Forum as “Lighthouses,” are also built in this way.
But not all Lighthouse factories are greenfield. I’ve mentioned the Schneider Electric Lighthouse factory in Lexington, Kentucky before. It was built in 1958, and today it has cut carbon emissions by 78 percent. This digital transformation wasn’t simply a result of ripping and replacing everything and starting anew. Over the years, we methodically phased in digital overlays on legacy operational technology.
Ultimately, what happened in Lexington shouldn’t stay in Lexington. It must spread across every single factory, office building, data center, and home over the next 30 years. Existing buildings are home to a huge portion of invisible energy waste, and most of them will still be around in 2050, the year scientists tell us we must reach net-zero emissions.
I look forward to this digitalization-themed issue of electroindustry because our industry still has so much more digitizing to do. Of course, we must digitize everything responsibly, keeping cybersecurity and safety top of mind. But we must also digitize everything urgently, accelerating sustainability for future generations. ei
Annette Kay Clayton
Chair, NEMA Board of Governors