The Energy Efficiency Era

A few weeks ago the European Union voted to phase out incandescent light bulbs entirely by 2012. The United States, Australia and Cuba are launching similar plans. If your household is anything like mine, you’ve already begun implementing a personal incandescent bulb phase-out plan, replacing your ‘last century lights’ with LED and other alternatives, in addition to, of course, doing what your mother always harped on during your childhood: “Turn off the lights!”

If you’re wondering what impact the new EU regulation will make, check out the energy-savings examples communicated in the Europa press release:

By enforcing the regulation of switching to energy saving bulbs, EU citizens will save close to 40 TWh (roughly the electricity consumption of Romania, or of 11 million European households, or the equivalent of the yearly output of 10 power stations of 500 megawatts) and will lead to a reduction of about 15 million tons of CO2 emission per year.

These figures demonstrate how the accumulation of people like you and me buying and using energy-efficient product innovations really can make a difference (i.e. new household lamp designs incorporating LED bulbs, like my nifty IKEA reading lamp—while the technology isn’t new, its inclusion into mainstream products is). Green PLM also plays a part.

In my last post of this series we looked at how companies are optimizing material usage in product design for a lighter environmental footprint. This in turn is linked to energy usage, because the lighter your car, the less fuel it consumes. But like our lights, products must also incorporate technologies to lighten their impact on the environment.

Now PLM doesn’t make technological innovations, people do. And sometimes we already have the right technologies but, for many different reasons, it’s difficult to get them executive-approved, produced and on the market. Take powertrains for example. Between automotive OEMs and their suppliers, the technology to increase fuel efficiency already exists. But because this knowledge is fragmented among different stakeholders dispersed around the globe and resides in various software systems, it’s quite difficult to get a holistic view of how this technology would impact pre-existing manufacturing infrastructures and other connected elements. So it’s tough to understand the full impact of switching to a different powertrain, and therefore tough to plan for this change. PLM 2.0 platforms like Dassault Systèmes’ V6 provide the digital environment to accomplish this.

What about when we haven’t yet nailed down the technology and are in the figuring-out phase? Well, why not use scientific simulation earlier in the design process? “Oh, ‘super idea’ X doesn’t get the type of results we wanted! Next!” You don’t have to waste downstream energy and time if you scientifically validate concepts early in the virtual design stage.

And when you’re working within a collaborative PLM 2.0 platform, you’re tapping into more collective brain power. Like I blogged in Design=Emotion=Day 2@ECF, “Creativity is individual, but innovation is collaborative.” It’s not some mad-scientist alone in his laboratory that’s going to help us make a difference. Together we’ll come up with solutions that we cannot dream up alone. Some people call this crowdsourcing. I call it working smart.

Do these things make PLM green? I’m not sure if this matters, because what counts are sustainable products and living. My take-away point is that PLM solutions can help companies boost innovation and develop, simulate, optimize and produce products that consume less energy.

Zooming out, I like to believe that we’re at the dawn of an energy-efficient era. I think that beyond our lights and cars, all of our everyday-living, energy-consuming products will get ‘retechnologicalized’ (if I may invent a word). What other examples can you think of? Solar-powered cell phones come to mind . . .

As an aside, I thought it’d be fun to share a product designed to help us be more mindful of our energy consumption. Check out Wattson



P.S. If you’re new to our Green PLM series, you may want to check out earlier posts: