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How commercial and industrial buildings are shaping the new energy landscape by Schneider Electric

Nadège Petit

My last blog discussed how individual energy prosumers, whose homes both produce and consume energy, are making an increasingly significant contribution toward our ultimate goal of a net-zero society. Now we’re going to talk about the equally key role to be played by commercial and industrial building prosumers, who own, operate, and manage the buildings where people work, shop, rent, and relax.

Buildings are responsible for 37% of global CO2 emissions and, due to its variety and complexity, we need a broad variety of strategies and efforts to digitize, decarbonize and ultimately bring our built environment closer to net zero. Many buildings consume more energy than is necessary and we can take simple steps to address this inefficiency, replacing and modernizing poor insulation or inefficient heating, cooling, and lighting systems.

These efficiencies, while significant, are not the whole story. If we are to reach even our most unambitious climate goals, we need to change the type of energy used to power both existing and future buildings. That’s where prosumers come in.

Buildings as a disruptor in the energy industry

Commercial and industrial prosumers are already disrupting the energy industry, changing how buildings produce and consume power. Guidehouse projects these building prosumers to triple in number by 2031, creating a multi-directional flow of electricity from grid to buildings, buildings to grid, and buildings to buildings. The US Department of Energy estimates that these grid-interactive buildings could deliver between $100 and $200 billion in savings to the U.S. power system in the next two decades, leading in turn to a 6% decrease in total power sector CO2 emissions by 2030. And that’s just in the United States; imagine if we extrapolate these numbers globally.

As onsite renewable energy becomes more widely adopted, ‘prosumer buildings’ will become an increasingly vital component of the distributed energy landscape of the future. Adding battery storage and microgrid technology makes buildings more resilient if their grid-sourced power fails, helps them to reduce costs by optimizing the use of locally-generated renewable energy during times of peak demand, and even supplements the energy utility’s generating capacity if the grid becomes overstretched.

Simplifying the prosumer journey

How can we simplify and accelerate the adoption of these technologies, making them less complex, more cost effective and suitable for multiple use cases?

The U.S. Department of Energy cites a lack of interoperability as the leading roadblock to building prosumer proliferation, stating that “connectivity and interoperability are imperative for enabling [Grid-interactive efficient buildings] technology adoption at scale.”

In order to respond to rapidly changing grid conditions, the technologies used by prosumers for load management, storage and generation need to be able to share data reliably, securely and autonomously. One way to simplify the process of adopting prosumer technologies is through the use of vendor-agnostic technology, that enables machines to communicate seamlessly.

Schneider Electric’s hardware, advanced software, and technology partnerships help us lead the way in the provision of renewable energy, microgrid technologies and eMobility. We guide building owners and operators on their prosumer journey with our building-to-grid solutions, which enable microgrids to remain connected to the main grid and keep buildings resilient against power outages arising from extreme weather events or other unexpected disruptions.

Our EcoStruxure suite of microgrid solutions facilitates smarter and more flexible management by predicting and controlling capacity from distributed energy resources. When combined with a platform like AutoGrid’s Flex, microgrids can offer essential electricity services and optimize operations to enable cost savings and open additional revenue streams.

To accelerate the development of microgrids, Schneider Electric has established joint ventures to offer Energy-as-a-Service. EaaS enables organizations to capture the benefits of microgrid ownership without the cost and risk of capital investment. AlphaStruxure and GreenStruxure enable organizations to build, own, and operate a microgrid for a long-term price per kWh. This gets the microgrid up and running faster and protects you from utility rate hikes. Schneider Electric can even transfer the asset to a partner when necessary, reducing your financial risk.

How Lippulaiva shopping center maintains power during an energy crisis

Last winter, when millions of Europeans faced power outages from freezing temperatures combined with an already strained energy market, Citycon, the property developer for Lippulaiva shopping center near Helsinki, Finland, had already embarked on a prosumer journey that protected the center from a potential energy crisis.

Citycon’s prosumer project—enabled by Schneider Electric solutions—included an end-to-end solution of integrated energy generation, storage, and management into a microgrid. With the help of EcoStruxure Microgrid Advisor, the owners also gained access to AI-powered automated decision-making, enabling them to best balance the use of storage, onsite renewable power and grid power depending on pricing, weather forecasts and other variables.

“We can produce a lot of [electricity] ourselves”, Kirsi Simola-Laaksonen, chief information officer at Citycon, told the Wall Street Journal. Citycon is not only more resilient to power outages but also helps to ease grid overconsumption by finding the best times to sell electricity to the grid.

“[EcoStruxure Microgrid Advisor] is looking at weather forecasts and doing a very complex set of calculations to come up with when it’s most useful to sell,” Simola-Laaksonen said.

This combination of solutions kept the lights in Lippulaiva on during the winter, and it also cut 335 metric tons of CO2 emissions per year, contributed to a 14% reduction in annual energy costs and added Є129,000 in annual revenues from building-to-grid sales.

Commercial and industrial building prosumers are a crucial piece of an evolving energy puzzle that is enabling us to accelerate decarbonization globally. And case studies like Lippulaiva demonstrate how a more sustainable future requires collaboration across industries, technology providers and utilities. In my next blog, I’ll discuss how utilities are meeting the prosumer demand and working with prosumers to define a more sustainable future.

Visit our prosumer site to read more about how businesses can benefit with the ability to produce, consume, and control their own energy.

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