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Schneider Electric Canada president talks the road to net-zero

Schneider Electric Canada president Adrian Thomas. (Courtesy Schneider Electric Canada Inc.)
Schneider Electric Canada president Adrian Thomas. (Courtesy Schneider Electric Canada Inc.)

Digital automation and energy management company Schneider Electric SE recently wrapped up its annual customer and partner event in Las Vegas, where it discussed new products, the road to net-zero and the continued electrification of our world.

New products announced at the Innovation Summit World Tour include the GM AirSet, a gas-insulated switchgear that removes potent greenhouse gas SF6 from electrical breaker technology; the EcoStruxure for Renewables, a digital twin solution for renewable farm operators; the EcoStruxure Energy Hub, a platform for electrical infrastructure that offers real-time energy reports; and EcoCare, an internet of things enabled support bundle for electricity assets.

These products are available in Canada.

“We've gone through what (Aamir Paul, president of Schneider Electric North America) termed in his talk was 10 quarters of the pandemic era, and we have another 30 quarters before we have to hit all these 2030 climate goals,” said Adrian Thomas, Schneider Electric Canada's president in an interview with SustainableBiz. Thomas joined the company in 2016 before becoming president in January 2021.

Schneider’s (SBGSF) global headquarters are in Rouelle-Malmaison, France, with its Canadian branch based in Mississauga.

The company is on CDP’s climate change A list, and was included in the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index in 2021 for the 11th consecutive year. It also placed in the top one per cent of the 85,000 corporates assessed for the EcoVadis ratings, and ranked first in the Electronic Components & Equipment sector in Europe for the Vigeo Eiris index.

In January, SustainableBiz reported on its collaboration with Woodbridge, Ont.-based Country Homes to install the Wiser Energy Smart Home Monitor in its new homes.

The Summit World Tour was kicked off in Las Vegas, followed by stops in the U.K. and Ireland, with Argentina, Indonesia and Hong Kong to come.

The changing road to net-zero

In his Summit keynote speech, Schneider CEO Jean-Pascal Tricoire stated the world's electricity consumption had been growing by 5,000 terrawatt-hours every 10 years, thanks to the increase of electrification in emerging countries. He predicts that in the next 10 years, that usage will double, and then from 2030 to 2040, multiply by a factor of four.

Two weeks prior to the Summit, Schneider’s net-zero by 2050 plan was certified by the Science-based Targets initiative. The company has an ambitious commitment to reduce the emissions of its top 1,000 suppliers by 50 per cent by 2025. It has also signed up for the U.N.-backed Race to Zero global campaign to halve emissions by 2030.

“I think if we look at the Canadian landscape in particular, all that supply, infrastructure investment, if it's to be done the traditional way takes a lot of time,” Thomas said. “While most of Canada's energy is non-emitting, we have had significant supply come from fossil fuels and other things. So I think the challenge will be, how do we bring that much supply on?”

Thomas and Schneider’s theory, at least from a supply perspective, is that much of it will be decentralized. Meaning that instead of a few sets of base loads, there will be a large set of distributed energy resources that will have to be managed via smart technology.

Energy efficiency versus energy reductions

On the demand side, Thomas called for the need to “make energy savings popular again,” recalling those who grew up in the energy crises of the 1970s.

He said the typical Canadian home uses about 120 kilowatt-hours per year in electricity, whereas a Passive House-certified home would use about 15 kilowatt-hours. He pointed out there’s plenty in between those two figures in terms of what goes on in the average house – well beyond just shutting the lights off when you leave a room – that a regular homeowner typically wouldn’t see.

In the same keynote, Tricoire conveyed much the same idea by comparing energy efficiency to energy reductions. Citing the International Energy Agency, he said 70 per cent of present energy waste can be eliminated with the technologies of today. 

It’s here that Thomas notes a challenge from the Canadian perspective in terms of bringing awareness to how much energy can be saved through different practices as opposed to implementing new technology.

“To borrow a phrase from our VP of sustainability (Frederick Morency), he says as Canadians we tend to be energy lazy,” Thomas said. “Everyone’s in a different economic situation. But if you compare versus the world, Canada has a relatively cheap energy cost, and so the cost for us to do things in Canada from an energy perspective is quite low.”

He also said more could be done to make Canadians aware of government programs that can help them with energy efficiency in the home.

Schneider Canada also plans to publish its own sustainability index next year, headed by Morency who joined this month.

Electricity 4.0

A prominent theme of the Summit was Schneider’s conception of ‘Electricity 4.0.’ It’s the company’s term for the incoming digital transformation to tackle sustainability on a global scale – in part by focusing on collaboration.

Thomas mentioned two Canadian companies Schneider is supporting via Schneider Ventures: Poka, a Montreal-based company with performance support software for manufacturers; and SmartD Technologies Inc., which produces the SmartD Clean Power Variable Frequency Drive.

Schneider offers financial support as well as feedback on the market. It has used Poka’s platform in some of its facilities.

“The flexibility for us to launch projects into the market space and be able to configure things via software is huge for us to be able to bridge and connect things together. We need to collect that data in the software and do analysis so we can better optimize it,” Thomas said. “So this whole concept of digitization. . . we think is the primary driver of how we'll find solutions to the energy transition and fundamentally then our sustainability crisis for the globe.”

According to him, Canada’s primary advantage in the incoming electrification is simply that most of its citizens believe in the threat of climate change. A long-term challenge is addressing what he says is the country’s historical shortage of electricity workers, from technicians to engineers. That shortage isn’t specific to Schneider Canada, it’s something Thomas states is industry-wide.

“Across Canada, we have a housing shortage. I think making sure that there's affordable places for everyone to live, is going to be critical if we're going to succeed,” Thomas said. “That's not directly related to the supply side. But those would be the challenges I see in getting a labour force and getting a labour force means that we also have to figure out where people live.”

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