DC Power and Microgrids Enable Sustainable Manufacturing

By Contributed Article | May 14, 2024

In a global realization that humanity must build a more sustainable future, manufacturing is setting the stage with new technologies and processes that show other industries what is possible.

Humanity is an inflection point in terms of our impact on the health of the planet, and sustainable manufacturing is a new imperative. Nearly one-third of the world’s electrical use is from manufacturing. Because of this, it’s becoming more important than ever to find sustainable solutions for challenges such as aging infrastructure, a power grid that hasn’t been updated in decades, and a growing global population that uses more and more power.

Engineers who design and update factory systems have an imperative to implement sustainable manufacturing technologies and efficient systems that produce less waste and limit the carbon footprint of manufacturing. While a lot of work must be done, this is an exciting time to think about the smart factory of the future.

Microgrids and the benefits to factories

As humanity’s power needs keep increasing, the aging power grid can’t keep up. A microgrid is an electrical grid that, while usually connected to a centralized grid, can operate independently if needed. In a sustainable manufacturing solution, a microgrid could supply power for a factory during peak periods and allow manufacturers to operate independent of larger main power grids, thereby putting less stress on the overall grid. This also limits the likelihood of a power outage, occurrences that have increased by more than two-thirds in the past 20 years. With a loss of power, the disruption to production can be astronomical for every hour the power is out. By moving toward microgrids, manufacturers can:

  • Reduce their carbon footprint or help move toward net-zero goals.
  • Avoid costly outages from storms or other causes of power disruption.
  • Reduce the strain on the main grid and reduce overall power costs.

A sustainable future

The demand on power grids is increasing as the human population grows and our reliance on technology increases. As the impacts of climate change become more evident and costly in terms of rising temperatures and sea levels and more devastating weather events, the quest for an all-electric society is critical. However, greater consumption of electricity in lieu of carbon-emitting power sources strain the current system. Conservation of energy resources across all areas of society is essential.

Manufacturing is a big area of power consumption, so technologies that generate power, store, and use it within one system can have a positive overall impact. By moving toward microgrids, this power doesn’t just benefit equipment within the factory. Beyond powering production lines, the power generated within microgrids can power onsite electric vehicle charging stations for vehicle fleets and LED lighting and building environmental controls within the facility.

A push for direct current in manufacturing

A direct current, commonly referred to as DC, is an electric current that flows in one direction. The use of DC in microgrids impacts how power is generated, stored, and used.

With photovoltaic solar arrays, the power already comes in the form of DC; there is no need to invert the power to DC, as is required with wind or hydroelectric. The power is generated, stored, and used as DC, improving efficiency and reducing costs.

Solar arrays

Europe leading the way

Europe is leading the way in sustainability and conservation. Companies across Europe are looking at how to upgrade to DC to reap its overall benefits and advantages, including more effciient and sustainable manufacturing practices.

The use of DC technology supports resource conservation and CO2. To promote DC grids, industry leaders and researchers founded the Open Direct Current Alliance (ODCA).  ODCA hopes to expand the global use of DC technology and help educate energy users on the benefits of microgrids.

DigiKey partners leading the way

DigiKey partners with manufacturers such as Schneider Electric and Panduit, industry leaders in smart and sustainable manufacturing processes, including the development of microgrids and the products necessary to make those designs a reality.

  • Schneider Electric specializes in digital automation and energy management. The company helps customers innovate and run smarter, more energy efficient manufacturing plants.
  • Panduit helps equipment manufacturers and contract manufacturers organize, connect, and protect electrical wire and cabling systems for optimum performance. The company’s solutions help customers achieve their sustainability goals, from network infrastructure to solar panel solutions.

DigiKey and the Factory of Tomorrow

As some of the world’s largest energy consumers, manufacturers must lead the way in using alternative energy sources, creating microgrids, and offsetting their carbon footprint to protect the future. DigiKey is helping engineers answers energy-related questions with free tools like DigiKey’s TechForum, where a DigiKey technician or engineer, or one of the TechForum’s 7,000 members, can offer guidance. This incredible resource brings together some of the world’s brightest minds to create a more efficient, productive, and sustainable future.

To learn more about sustainable manufacturing technologies, check out DigiKey’s Factory of Tomorrow video series.

Eric Halvorson is a partnership marketing manager at DigiKey. DigiKey is recognized as the global leader and continuous innovator in the distribution of electronic components and automation products, providing more than 17.2 million components from over 2,800 quality manufacturers.

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