Mr Schmeck, when machines are running like clockwork, why should they have to constantly collect data demonstrating how wonderful everything runs?
Hartmut Schmeck: So they continue to run so wonderfully. With enough data, we can determine when each machine is not working properly. As soon as the data indicate something is changing – such as conspicuous temperature drops or rises – you can take action. “Predictive maintenance” is the technical term for it: you make repairs before something breaks. This not only saves on maintenance costs, but also the much higher losses that would be caused should production falter due to a defective machine. Without data it would be more difficult for the service team to find out what exactly is broken and why. This takes time, and money.
What do you advise companies that are reluctant to invest in digitisation?
Schmeck: Go for it! It pays off. Anyone who brings an energy consultant into their operation will quickly receive a list of intervention options to save or better use energy. This requires investment, but in many cases it pays for itself within two years, max.
You specialise in the energy sector. Why is Big Data so important in this sector?
Schmeck: The fundamental question has always been: How do we balance supply and demand so that each reliably always gets enough power? Previously, there were hundreds of power plants in Germany that were controlled by a handful of companies. Today, there are thousands and thousands of power plants: wind turbines in fields, solar cells on roofs, cogeneration units in basements… To use this energy and to manage and distribute power efficiently, we need to digitise the entire system. We need a “smart power grid” that gathers and analyses as much meaningful data as possible to target current flow controls – and not as a central entity, but via many remote interfaces.
Is German policy on the right track for the “Smart Power Grid”?
Schmeck: Many German companies, both large and small, have long understood how important and lucrative the sensible use of energy can be. In the federal government, I’m not so sure. It has pushed a large and meaningful project with the energy revolution. But now energy companies are seeing their power and dividends dwindle, and are challenging the policy because the energy transition would cost jobs. And then the politicians start to back down. Basically, the energy revolution is at a standstill. In other countries, politicians are less hesitant. They picked up on the initial momentum of the Germans, and stuck to their guns. They push it through. German politicians could take a lesson from this. Through the energy revolution here in Germany we have the opportunity to develop with a “tailwind” the concepts and technologies for the energy systems of the future. But if we don’t develop a clear strategy and make rapid progress, there is a danger that others will overtake us.