Is this the future of energy for manufacturers?

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the manufacturing industry accounted for 38 per cent of global final energy usage in 2021. Here, Vijay Madlani, CEO of greentech innovator Katrick Technologies, explains how microgeneration can help manufacturers ensure that their portion of that 38 per cent is cost effective and as sustainable as possible.

Shifting global market structures, improved efficiency and implementation and newer, smarter equipment means that energy productivity (value per unit of energy input) has also risen, but the sector still needs to mitigate carbon emissions to support the transition to net zero. One way that this can be achieved is through microgeneration — small scale generation of, normally renewable, power for independent businesses and individuals.

The IEA estimates that to hit net zero milestones, the manufacturing sector must limit the growth in its energy use to less than 0.5 per cent every year from now until 2030, while increasing its energy productivity by three per cent each year. This will be no easy feat for a sector in constant and evolving demand, particularly when it relies heavily on fossil fuels.

Oil and gas made up 68 per cent of its energy mix in 2021, a reduction from previous years thanks mostly to increased renewable electricity use in light industries. A further shift to sustainable electricity will be essential in keeping on target for net zero, with studies estimating that electricity usage will need to increase from 21 per cent to at least 30 per cent by 2030.

Because of the vast differences between manufacturing operations, moving to a more diverse energy mix could be a challenge. Some production processes, particularly those involving extreme temperatures or chemical reactions can’t be decarbonised at present. However, there are areas where electrification, or moving to more renewable energy sources, can have serious sustainability benefits.

For operations looking to improve their green credentials and to cut costs, microgeneration is an increasingly popular and accessible option. Microgeneration involves small-scale, independent renewable energy generation by households, businesses, or communities, typically on the site where the power is required.

Microgeneration reduces offtake and use of National Grid electricity, replacing it with individually generated renewable power. Some of this can even be supplied back to the grid, thus increasing the volume of clean energy and contributing to a greener power supply.

Sustainable microgeneration isn’t just better for the environment — there are considerable financial benefits too. Though initial equipment and installation costs can be high, in the long-term it is considered a safe investment in an often-unstable energy market.

Typically, transmission and distribution of electricity is managed by the National Grid, with businesses paying their supplier, such as Opus, British Gas or EDF for instance, for what they use. With energy costs rising to unprecedented levels, microgeneration allows manufacturers to avoid expensive rates and distribution costs from suppliers and to keep spending more consistent.

There are even government incentives available to encourage businesses to utilise microgeneration, including exemption from the Climate Change Levy and a range of grants and subsidies on other commercial energy bills.

Generating sustainable energy on a micro scale can even provide an additional stream of revenue. Any excess energy generated through microgeneration can be sold back to the National Grid for a profit, as well as providing a higher volume of renewable power.

Along with the direct financial benefits, it’s worth noting that now more than ever consumers are prioritising sustainability and environmentally-conscious choices. With growing public awareness of the importance of clean energy and protecting the planet, a business committed to making greener choices may reach a larger demographic and improve its reputation.

For manufacturers looking to invest in microgeneration, there are several things to consider when choosing a technology. There are multiple options available, including solar, hydropower, biomass and wind. Not all of these will be suitable for every manufacturing operation, dependent on location, geographical factors, cost and climate.

Manufacturing is often an energy intensive sector and requires reliable and consistent supply, and this should be considered when selecting a means of microgeneration.

Wind power is a significant contributor to the UK’s energy mix, with on and offshore wind power contributing 26.1 per cent of total energy in the last quarter of 2021 according to National Grid. The UK’s climate makes wind an attractive and reliable choice for energy generation, with over 1500 onshore windfarms across Great Britain. As wind is cost-effective and low in emissions it has come to play a key role in renewable energy, but it does present a potential challenge in microgeneration. Often wind turbines, as well as being costly, have to be built in large open spaces with low populations and few buildings or structures to block wind flow.

The drawbacks of traditional wind power generation technology with turbines mean that for microgeneration, particularly for manufacturers with operations in urban or populous areas, it may be a challenge to implement. However, new technologies in development aim to make wind power more accessible than ever for households, businesses, and manufacturers by providing solutions to these issues.

Katrick Technologies is one such company. Driven by the need for wider use of renewable technology, Katrick Technologies has developed an innovative new system for harnessing wind power and exploiting untapped energy. Its wind panels are hexagonal modular units that use aerofoil technology to capture kinetic energy from wind and convert it to green energy.

The smaller size and advanced technology allow the panel to use a far wider range of wind frequencies than turbines, including low-level ground winds. The panels can potentially generate up to 22,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity and save up to 4,664kg of CO2 from being emitted per 10-panel array each year.

Not only do the panels use a greater range of winds, they’re also a scalable and flexible solution. Their small size means that they can easily be fitted to buildings in urban and residential areas without the need for large areas of land for construction. This makes them ideal for businesses, residential properties and industrial sites where installing a turbine is impractical, and makes the planning permission process far more straightforward.

Extra flexibility is created by the system being available in several sizes and, with buyers able to purchase as many panels as necessary, it can be tailored to the energy needs of the individual operation.

The wind panels have already attracted interest across other sectors, including the air travel industry. Katrick Technologies is part of a consortium with AGS Airports Limited and the University of Strathclyde for the deployment of technology to accelerate the transition to clean power. It has also participated in a wind mapping project as part of a partnership with Edinburgh airport to identify areas of unexploited wind energy.

Though energy usage for manufacturers is dictated by many factors, including the scale of the operation, the equipment used and the type of manufacturing, on average large, industrial businesses use upwards of 55,000 kWh of electricity per year.

In fact, many factories use over 100 kWh a year to run their operations, resulting in considerable expenditure on energy. For such applications, Katrick Technologies’ wind panels have a levelised cost of energy (LCOE) of 8p per kW, making it cheaper in the long term than every other solution except onshore wind. When these costs are considered against the vast energy usage of a manufacturing company, the cost savings are significant.

High levels of energy use are only likely to continue, in line with population growth and increased consumer demand. While manufacturers will continue to need large amounts of power, by considering microgeneration they can benefit from financial savings, independence from national suppliers, and even additional income through selling surplus energy back to the grid. In a dynamic and evolving energy market, safeguarding an individual supply through microgeneration can help manufacturers to efficiently power their operations in a greener, more cost-effective way.

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