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Schneider Electric

By Microsoft Customer Stories on December 14, 2016

Filed under Discrete Manufacturing

Schneider Electric extends access to electricity

The current world population is 7.4 billion. That’s an astonishing number, particularly when you consider that most of the growth occurred over the last two centuries. And, of course, technology has advanced rapidly in that timeframe too, albeit with some acute disparities.

For example, 1.2 billion people live without access to electricity. In fact, approximately 17 percent of the global population is unable to access energy services, living in what the International Energy Agency calls a state of energy poverty—without electricity for homes, schools, or basic infrastructure like water pumps. Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, communities with adequate access to energy are looking for ways to cut consumption.

Facing global energy challenges

Believing that access to energy is a basic human right, Schneider Electric designs transformative solutions for global challenges. A leader in energy management with a 180-year history, Schneider Electric is headquartered in France and has customers in more than 100 countries. The company devotes approximately 5 percent of its 26.60 billion (US$29.6 billion) revenue to research and development in pursuit of the next breakthrough in energy management and automation.

And breakthroughs have never been more important. Because while 1.2 billion people live without electricity, another billion struggle with unreliable power, and approximately 2.8 billion use biomass—coal, wood, charcoal, or animal waste—for cooking. Access to electricity is critical not only for economic development, but also for improving living conditions and powering basic social services like health care and education. At the same time, establishing and maintaining better standards of living for future generations require more emphasis on greener solutions.

Seeking to balance access to electricity with sustainability, Schneider Electric wanted to find a more efficient way to monitor and manage remote equipment. Areas of interest included renewable energy sources such as isolated sites powered by solar energy, solar power plants, and the interplay between residential consumption and grid performance. To meet its goals, the company needed real-time insight into sensors, equipment, and systems operating almost anywhere in the world. “We’re in about 18 different market verticals, so we’re in a lot of industries,” says Cyril Perducat, Executive Vice President of Digital Services and IoT at Schneider Electric. “Energy management is really the unifying theme in our business strategy. One of the challenges that we faced is that we needed to build a global solution that we could adapt at the same time to very specific local requirements.”

Creating a global solution for local energy needs

Schneider needed a technology platform that could be scaled worldwide, yet flexible enough to support diverse scenarios in multiple markets. The Microsoft Azure platform was the right answer. “One of the reasons we chose Microsoft is that it has that global reach, but at the same time local specificity,” Perducat says.

By taking advantage of Azure, Schneider was able to create a flexible platform that could extend to numerous projects around the world, many of them in remote locations with extremely limited resources. “Azure IoT technologies are important for us because they foster reusability,” says Perducat. “That is, if we develop an innovative solution for one purpose, we can apply it again in another context. As a result, we accelerate innovation across our organization.”

In close collaboration with Microsoft, the company created its IoT platform based on the Microsoft Azure IoT Suite and the Cortanta Intelligence Suite. The solution connects cloud services with everything from sensors, thermostats, and digital interfaces to supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and building automation systems. Then it began implementing the first of many offerings, including the Conext Advisor monitoring system for optimizing solar power plants, Conext Insight for monitoring battery-powered photovoltaic installations in remote locations, and Wiser Air, which interactively monitors home thermostats.

Powering diverse and transformative projects

The ongoing projects are diverse and transformative. For example, in Nigeria, Schneider Electric collaborated with Microsoft and the Lagos State Electricity Board to help solve the country’s power challenges by providing sustainable solar power to more than 200 schools and clinics. Conext Insight uses Azure IoT Suite to connect photovoltaic systems to the cloud for monitoring, diagnosing, and real-time tracking of energy use patterns. With Cortana Intelligence Suite, workers can spot trends or declining performance, and initiate preventive maintenance.

Similar projects have also been initiated in China, India, and Southeast Asia. “We have multiple programs, but it all comes down to providing electricity to people who don’t have it,” notes Perducat. “One of our main drivers is education. We’re enabling kids to go to school so that they can learn and develop to help their families have a better future. And we can give them the simple ability to have light at home to do homework.”

Access to electricity improves quality of life in other ways too. For example, with constant supply of sustainable energy, people can pump and filter water and cook meals more easily and safely.

Elsewhere in the world, Conext Advisor enables remote management of multiple solar farms in isolated areas. As a result, regions with limited resources are gaining a stable supply of energy while operating more efficiently and controlling costs. Remote monitoring centers optimize performance by analyzing the effect of variables like shade, weather, and dust on solar power. Now, plant owners can take advantage of powerful analytics to manage power conversion efficiency, perform predictive maintenance, and extend the use of sustainable energy sources to meet increasing demands.

And with the Wiser Air smart thermostat, energy savings extend to consumers, who can optimize comfort levels in their homes while stretching energy dollars. At-a-glance color halos indicate heating or cooling modes, and weather alerts offer up-to-date information so users are never caught off guard. Settings can be monitored and adjusted on the go for optimal energy usage, reducing energy consumption by up to 13 percent.

While the projects are diverse, Perducat envisions the Azure-based as a holistic solution, creating a sustainable energy value chain extending from photovoltaic farms to individual homes. He says, “At one end of the value chain, we can help solar farms improve their yield and operations, and at the other end, we can help utilities work with consumers to balance load for a more stable electrical grid.” As a result, utilities can more easily connect and manage distributed generation sources like rooftop photovoltaic installations with existing power grids.

Building a more sustainable future

The cloud-based solutions benefit local economies in multiple ways, not least of all by stimulating innovation among local entrepreneurs.  “We partner with a lot of small, family-owned companies,” says Perducat. “It’s the electrician next door, it’s the regional installers. These companies want some of the capabilities we’re discussing, but they cannot build them by themselves. So with Microsoft IoT and advanced analytics technologies is the enabler for them to enrich and develop their own value proposition.”

Schneider is helping communities around the world build a better future. “Empowering people and businesses through the Internet of Things is very important,” says Perducat. “There’s an opportunity for economic and human development through the use of Microsoft IoT technology.”

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