Automating ambition

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Graeme Ross, UK and EMEA sales director at Resource Data Management, explores how utilising PLC software could help to achieve the UK’s ambitious net-zero targets.

With net-zero greenhouse gas emission targets passed into law by the government in June this year, the UK is one of the first economies to set a specific, legally-binding target to help slow down global warming. Described as ambitious by many, changes will most likely need to be made across all sectors to ensure the UK is carbon neutral by 2050. 

According to a UN report, buildings accounted for 40% of energy-related CO2 emissions in 2017. Decreasing the energy consumption of buildings represents a huge opportunity to contribute to the net-zero target for organisations across many sectors. Whether it’s office buildings, hotels, schools, retail stores or restaurants, any type of building and the associated organisation have the potential to become more energy efficient, cut costs and decrease CO2 emissions, staying ahead of any legislative changes.

PLC software: Managing building controls

One way to increase the energy efficiency of buildings is to implement or update existing programmable logic control (PLC) software to optimise building management systems (BMS). 

PLC software is used to control equipment in a facility. This includes heating, ventilation, air conditioning, refrigeration (HVACR), lighting and any other assets connected through the Internet of Things (IoT). The logic applied when programming the software can be as simple or complex as required. 

Increasing the sustainability of buildings

PLC software is highly flexible and can be programmed to not only meet any facility’s needs, but to go beyond that and turn buildings into strategic assets. Automation of processes saves manual labour time and removes human error. Thereby, it carries out tasks, often those that are repetitive and time-consuming, freeing up time for staff. 

According to a study conducted by British Gas, 46% of business energy was consumed outside of regular working hours, between 6pm and 8am. Implementing or updating the logic of existing PLC software can lower unnecessary consumption. Control strategies can be written which ensure all equipment that is not needed, such as lights, heating or air conditioning, will be automatically switched off at a certain time. 

Alternatively, depending on the organisation’s needs, it can, for example, be switched off when the burglar alarm is activated, indicating that the last person has left the building. This type of building optimisation will contribute towards decreasing CO2 emissions and save costs at the same time.

Energy savings with PLC software

Energy savings can be significant for any type and size of organisation: hospitals, small supermarkets and retail chains consisting of hundreds of stores, or a single site, can all benefit from a well-tailored PLC control strategy. 

After installing new HVAC equipment and introducing PLC software with custom strategy, a Malaysian hospital achieved energy savings of 51% per year. A UK retail chain reduced its energy usage by 34% across an estate of over 400 stores after installing new lighting and control processes that were then written into the PLC system’s control strategy.

A small Australian supermarket, operating only one store, achieved a 28% reduction in yearly electricity consumption after refitting the store and introducing a PLC strategy to optimise the management of assets. 

Customisation achieves the greatest benefits

Due to the highly flexible nature of PLC software, individual strategies can be written that take unique aspects of the organisation into account. A holiday park with over 500 individual lodges spread out across a wide estate, optimised its energy consumption further by tying the controls of each lodge to the central booking system. When the system indicates that a lodge is unoccupied, the power is automatically turned off. 

Using this PLC strategy, the business does not rely on the guests anymore to shut off the heating and lights at the end of their stay, which had been a common problem. Furthermore, cleaning staff are now able to turn the power on when needed, simply sending a signal with their tablet when cleaning is in progress. The power is automatically turned off again after they have marked the work as complete.

Staying ahead of change

Optimising PLC strategies to make use of their full potential to optimise BMS is a cost-effective option for organisations to decrease energy consumption and reduce carbon emissions, working towards the UK’s net-zero target. Where PLC software is already in place, organisations can implement updates if needed and thereby stay ahead of any potential legislative changes yet to come.