Schneider Electric has opened a 4,500-square-foot laboratory in Montreal with plans to tap into local talent to help decarbonize buildings and industries through digitization.
The French automation and energy management company has its Canadian headquarters in Mississauga. Schneider Electric has “very strong operations” in Canada, according to senior vice-president of digital buildings Andre Marino, who spoke to Sustainable Biz Canada in an interview.
The company has previously partnered with Woodbridge, Ont.-based Country Homes to install the Wiser Energy Smart Home Monitor in new homes and opened the Schneider Electric Smart Grid Lab at Toronto Metropolitan University’s Centre for Urban Energy.
At its Innovation Lab: Digital Buildings facility, Schneider Electric will develop and test technology aimed at reducing the climate impact of buildings through an initiative it calls digital buildings.
Schneider Electric develops a plan, then digitizes the building’s information to facilitate decarbonization actions. Marino said digital buildings support customers through planning, building baselines and implementing solutions.
“We call it digital buildings because our main mission, being decarbonizing the built environment, requires a lot of digitization,” he added.
The Montreal lab
Situated in Montreal’s Marconi district, the lab – built over 18 months at a cost of approximately $4 million – complements Schneider Electric's pre-existing R&D centre. Forty new employees will be added in 2024 to join the company's team in the lab.
The Marconi district, Marino said, is an area reputed for its innovation. He pointed to its technology and AI businesses and architectural students as a “pool of talent with good class educational institutions.”
“It’s a combination of a good environment with vibrancy, innovation, spirit, common goal of decarbonizing the built environment, access to talent and the entire ecosystem around technology. So, it makes it just a perfect spot to invest there.”
Schneider Electric will develop and prototype its digital building technologies at the lab, such as Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, test the performance of valves, motors and actuators, and rapidly produce 3D prints of prototypes.
With buildings being more "intelligent" — incorporating digital technology and AI — Marino said the lab will enable the greater efficiency of buildings through technology.
For example, IoT sensors can detect whether a room is occupied. If a room is empty, the HVAC system can minimize operations in the space, thus reducing energy use and carbon emissions.
Marino said the 3D-printed prototypes can be laser-scanned for compliance and simulate real-life testing to ensure the final product will be up to par.
The lab itself has its energy consumption monitored by Schneider Electric and the company is developing an AI tool to reduce energy use in each room.
Pushing building decarbonization
Digital buildings can provide a baseline for decarbonization, Marino said. With the data acquired through digital technology, automation, AI and microgrids can be utilized to achieve net-zero carbon.
Another key emission-reducing solution that will be explored at the lab is building retrofits.
“I think it’s a misconception that people think that a new building will do better for reaching our goals for net carbon-zero, but actually we should focus on retrofits,” Marino said.
Half of the buildings that will stand in 2050 already exist, he noted, so Schneider Electric’s research in Montreal helps decarbonize existing buildings and save on energy use and carbon emissions.