Big Interview: Daniela Rendon Ortega, Vice President Digital Buildings Business Development Europe Operations at Schneider Electric

Stuart Duff – Executive Editor at Installer – speaks to Daniela Rendon Ortega, Vice President Digital Buildings Business Development Europe Operations at Schneider Electric, about energy efficiency, sustainability, and electrification.

Q: You offer products that cover all aspects of smart buildings. How are these integrated to provide an energy-efficient solution?

Daniela: Schneider Electric’s solutions are designed with integration capabilities to simplify and speed up access to data and manage energy use, which are essential to help increase sustainability, reduce carbon emissions, and enhance building value. Our open and flexible EcoStruxure Building solutions help owners and facility managers respond to rising energy costs, as well as mandates for net-zero carbon emissions. The solutions’ functionality enables seamless integration of multiple building, electrical distribution, power, EV charging, and renewable energy systems within a single, convenient, mobile-enabled control centre.

With this modernised building management solution, building systems and devices can be integrated and managed to improve efficiency and accelerate decarbonisation. Our recent eGuide goes into more detail on how facility managers can become the net-zero champions of their organisation, using digitalisation-driven insights for better-informed decisions and improved operations. Energy is only used where and when it’s needed, and the solutions are ready for facility managers now. Additionally, that data can easily be shared between building operators, occupants and other stakeholders, using dashboards and interfaces on laptops and mobile devices. This boosts engagement and accountability in reducing energy consumption. Digital services can be installed quickly, typically producing energy savings of 10 to 20% for a commercial building of 10,000 m2 with a consumption of 180 kWh per m2/year.

Going further, electrical digital twin software can help to boost efficiency and decarbonise buildings through more accurate sizing and optimised electrical system design. This also helps to reduce waste and makes it easier to integrate renewables and microgrids into a building’s energy system.

Q: Sustainability is high on the agenda for everyone. What measures have you put in place that set you apart as a company?

Daniela: Sustainability is embedded at every level of Schneider Electric. For over 20 years, ESG has been our top priority and remains at the heart of everything we do – from setting our business strategy and operations, to investment, innovation and R&D, right through to employee engagement and customer relationships. In fact, Schneider Electric is the only company in its sector to have made the CDP Climate Change A List for the 12th year in a row.

Back in 2005, before ESG had the attention it does now in the corporate world, we launched our first sustainability barometer — the Schneider Sustainability Impact (SSI). This reports our quarterly progress towards our ESG goals, which are regularly reviewed and reset at the end of each impact period. For example, our impact plan for 2025 includes 80% green revenues, reducing CO2 emissions of our top 1,000 suppliers by 50%, and achieving net zero by 2030.

In 2021, going beyond our ambitious targets, we opened IntenCity, one of the world’s most efficient buildings, recognised with LEED Platinum environmental certification. IntenCity requires just one-tenth of the energy of an average European building, with 4,000m2 of solar panels and 2 wind turbines enough to power the entire building for 1,500 employees, including EV charging.

It interfaces with other buildings in the district, storing onsite renewable energy and deferring consumption to benefit neighbouring buildings at peak times. IntenCity is a ‘learning building’, collecting 60,000 data points every two minutes to adapt in real-time to energy consumption. It also uses predictive data for building and energy management and control, ensuring flexibility, reliability, and resiliency.

Q: How does the UK’s path to electrification and net zero compare with the rest of Europe? Has leaving the EU created a differential in the rate of progress?

Daniela: Both Europe and the UK are facing an unprecedented energy crisis. After decades of high energy availability, reliability, and price stability, our world has been flipped upside down. Unpredictable energy supply and unaffordable prices are affecting the whole of Europe. However, we’ve seen the global community come together to develop policies, laws and net zero targets – from cities such as Copenhagen, Helsinki, and London that are taking the lead by setting ambitious targets to achieve net-zero carbon emissions through to the Paris Climate Accord and the EU’s carbon targets.

Regulations in both the EU and the UK will drive change. In the EU, EPBD will mandate building renovation, modernising and decarbonising the EU’s building stock, whilst the revised renewable energy directive will provide stronger incentives for electrification. The UK has followed a similar path, where we have seen both private and public buildings accelerate towards renovation and digitisation with the public sector decarbonisation fund and electrification mandates.

Today, buildings account for 37% of carbon emissions and roughly 75% of the EU building stock is energy inefficient. That means a large part of the energy used is being wasted. For both the UK and EU countries, there is a particular need to focus on existing buildings. In the UK, for example, the worst-performing buildings (F and E at minimum) cannot be sold, rented or renovated without improving energy performance. This is an acute problem, considering that 42% of buildings were built before 1970 and only 3% of buildings have an A energy rating. A focus on buildings will be vital, both in the UK and EU, to hit emissions targets and optimise active energy management.

Q: Do you foresee microgrids becoming the norm in places such as Europe and the USA? And do they offer an opportunity to bring energy to other parts of the world?

Daniela: The energy crisis will see decentralised power supply and microgrids become a necessity across the world. The global microgrid market is predicted to grow at a staggering rate of 12.6% CAGR between 2021-2027 and 21.4% in European markets alone, playing a crucial role in increasing the renewable energy supply and stabilising the grid. This expansion of a more decentralised model allows for overall greater grid flexibility, resilience, and decarbonisation, enabled by microgrids. Microgrids can also deliver additional value around different regions of the world, including areas where access to energy is not available, contributing to greater access to energy.

Microgrids present an exciting opportunity for the global energy market to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels and improve the efficiency of energy distribution. However, the challenge of providing adequate power to all parts of an increasingly digital economy is one that requires a coordinated response from all stakeholders, including government. The acceleration of microgrid adoption will be driven by a combination of several factors including standardisation of the systems, more widely affordable and available distributed energy resources, advancements in microgrid software, complementary financial models and policy. In the US, the recent ruling by the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) allows the owners of household solar systems, electric vehicle batteries and other small energy resources to sell their excess energy to the wholesale power grid. For the first time, these prosumers will compete with traditional generators, showing a great step towards the democratisation of energy resources.

REPowerEU and Fit for 55 are two European Union (EU) initiatives that aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase the use of renewable energy. These initiatives provide a number of opportunities for the growth of microgrids in Europe that deliver on decarbonisation goals as well as mutually beneficial for resilience and against energy cost volatility. In the UK, £30 million in government funding is going towards the capture and storage of renewable energy, including microgrid pilot schemes, with the British Energy Security Strategy looking to make 95% of UK electricity low carbon by 2030.

Q: How do you support your customers on their educational journey with regard to energy efficiency?

Daniela: One of the biggest barriers to energy efficiency is a lack of education. Our mySchneider Partner Programme can provide this, helping members to upskill by teaching them how they can transform their roles and develop future-ready competencies for a new simplified, open and digital world.

Additionally, Schneider Electric University provides free online energy education for all. Making energy efficiency education inclusive, it is available in 14 different languages, its user base covers over 180 countries and it is vendor agnostic. Everyone can tailor their own course to certain sectors or topics, including data centres, healthcare, and buildings, with the opportunity to be certified as a Data Centre Certified Associate or Professional Energy Manager.

Our GreenPremiumTM programme promotes transparency of environmental information and our sustainable products, representing 78% of our product sales.

We also developed an online energy crisis tool for organisations to find short-term energy efficiency investments, as well as prepare for mid-term challenges.

Find out more about Schneider Electric’s solutions and services at se.com