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August Roundtable - Why Adopt 'Green' Technology?

Thu, 07/22/2010 - 6:16am
Alix Paultre, Editor-in-Chief

The Roundtable question for August is “How much do you feel the current push for “green” tech comes from image and the desire to appear ecologically responsible, and how much does it come from a true pursuit of performance improvement in power systems?”  

David NortonDavid Norton, TDK-Lambda (www.tdk-lambda.com)

Certainly there is an element of wanting to appear environmentally responsible from some of our customers. When our client’s management challenges their Engineers to look into reduced power consumption in their products, they soon realize the cost and “green marketing” benefits in choosing more efficient power supplies.

On the other hand, although I do not believe that anyone would deliberately make their products less “green”, in some instances the power supply selection is driven by program schedule restrictions or by a strict demand for the lowest cost possible, which does not to take into consideration the real cost of ownership nor the sales benefit of a green product.

TDK-Lambda often reminds its customers that paying a little more for a power supply can also reduce their long-term costs. This includes not having to replace a worn out power supply prematurely or the associated environmental impact of service-call-travel. And, in some cases, the disposal of the low-cost power supply.

In many cases by providing the Energy Star or EISA energy specification conformance to External Power Supplies (EPS), which are covered under these requirements, the end user gains a green marketing advantage that adds value to their end products. There is no doubt that as the cost of producing electricity continues to escalate, the pure economics of improving power efficiencies will continue to drive wise OEMs towards more efficient power products.

Fanie DuvenhageFanie Duvenhage, Microchip Technology (www.microchip.com)  

The development of “green” technologies is a response to a change in the value the public places on energy efficiency. Companies are developing new technologies to gain a competitive advantage as the affinity for green products is increasing. Ultimately, the companies that are the most successful at improving the performance of batteries, developing new fuels, lowering power consumption, and improving system efficiency will stand to benefit the most.

However, having the best technology is only part of the equation. Companies must also ensure that potential customers know about and have access to the technologies. Today’s environmentally-sensitive consumer will have a broader interest to look at the company as a whole before purchasing its products. This is what drives companies to improve their image in order to appear ecologically responsible.

So, the appearance of being ecologically responsible and the development of green technologies are not the objectives, but rather the symptoms of companies trying to meet market demands for energy efficiency. 

Geir FørreGeir Førre, Energy Micro (www.energymicro.com)

The true motivator behind certain ‘green’ tech can be difficult to identify, often it’s a mix of reputation, customer pressure and good business sense. Whatever the image, it needs to be built on real substance to have credibility.

At Energy Micro, our aim from the start was to create a 32bit ‘energy friendly’ microcontroller capable of consuming less than a quarter of the energy of 8bit, 16bit or 32bit alternatives, and we succeeded. Impact? Longer product life, less batteries to recycle, fewer service call-outs and less vehicle emissions as a result –factors that are all kind to the
environment.”

Vandana LokeshwarVandana Lokeshwar, Newark (www.newark.com)

The world is headed for a severe and prolonged energy crunch in the not-too-distant future. Despite having spent billions of dollars on exploration, the major energy firms are reporting few new discoveries and so have been digging ever deeper into existing reserves. People have awakened to this reality and conscious efforts are being implemented by companies to engage in renewable energy generation, by optimizing and maximizing power efficiency.

All industries--including Automotive, Industrial, Automation and Manufacturing--are investing heavily into research and the development of systems, infrastructure for various applications. The semiconductor component manufacturers are also continuously employing the use of new fabrication technology, innovative engineering  techniques to minimize power and optimize efficiency. For example, Microchip recently launched the world’s lowest sleep current microcontroller, the nanowatt XLP. CHiL Semiconductor Corporation announced its breakthrough in high efficiency computing voltage regulator (VR) which helps increase efficiency up to 15 percent. The market explosion in solid state lighting applications is another prime example. The use of such alternatives are not only helping reduce the energy usage, but also the carbon footprint by a significant amount. 

Renewed consumer interest in environmental conservation, new laws being put in place for proper e-waste disposal, and President Obama’s proposed plan to invest in renewable energy projects to boost the U.S. economy, are definitely  motivating everyone to focus on bolstering their "green efforts”. One may argue that companies are reaping sweet rewards and their vested interested may lie in the receiving of grants, recognition and publicity with the help of green certificates etc, but the fact that it results in building a greener planet for all doesn’t seem such a bad deal after all.  

Kurt WernerKurt Werner, 3M Environmental Affairs (www.3m.com)

Decisions made between technologies most often don’t require a choice between “green” and performance.  People want to make smart decisions that are cost-effective and are the right choice for their companies and for the environment. This means decisions most often include a component of both – performance improvement and ecological responsibility. 

There’s been a shift in the last few years where, increasingly, choices are made based both on performance criteria and the desire to be “green”. The carbon markets and evolving climate change policy provide us with insight into the motivation for these choices.  Voluntary carbon trading is image driven, enabling companies to make claims of carbon neutrality. Often times these are retail, or image-conscious businesses that have a heavy consumer audience and a marketing emphasis on a “green” public image.  These voluntary markets have been active in the last decade and there continues to be a lot of interest in this commodity. A green image is proving to have a positive impact on these types of companies and is appealing to consumers, as more and more are making buying decisions based on a company’s green reputation.

Simultaneously businesses are currently operating in compulsory emission trading regimes or are betting on future global and/or domestic policy that will put a cost on CO2 emissions in the form of “cap and trade” or some other instrument.  Marginally higher-cost technologies that reduce a carbon footprint are becoming more commercially viable.  Companies are more interested in investing in sustainable technology or products and will spend more for them. They are betting on higher future energy costs so they are more likely to accept that, over the life cycle of the technology, their choice is both “green” and cost-effective. 

There are a lot of entities investing in waste heat recovery, solar, wind, sustainable fire protection, etc. because they expect CO2   emissions to have real costs in the future. From my perspective, as an environmental affairs manager, these are exciting times. Society’s views related to these issues are shifting quickly. Just five to ten years ago, the value propositions of sustainable technologies were difficult to sell and purchase decisions were more frequently based on shorter term costs.  Although the details of future policy related to CO2 emissions is not yet settled, the direction is becoming clearer and new technologies that impact an entities carbon footprint have more value because they perform, are cost effective, and they are green.

Andrea MirendaAndrea Mirenda, Fairchild Semiconductor (www.fairchildsemi.com)

For the most part, the push for green in the semiconductor industry is a true pursuit of better products and a better environment, rather than a ruse to appear to be a responsible corporate citizen. But the drive to be “green” in power systems, or any system, can’t be viewed in isolation. It goes hand-in-hand with the desire to improve performance, to be ecologically friendly and to positively impact the bottom line. These elements are intrinsically linked when discussing green initiatives.

If you view the green equation as including these three elements – Improved Product Performance + Positive ROI + Ecologically Friendly = Green – you can see that the drive to be green has to be real, not just a desire to appear responsible. No company would undertake a green initiative if was not beneficial to them. While not all aspects of a company’s operations would be able to meet the demands of the equation, where possible, being green makes good sense.

Fairchild is committed to reducing energy consumption in electronic applications through advanced packaging and proprietary technologies.

  Ming-Chin WuMing-Chin Wu, Advantech eAutomation (www.advantech.com)

When a company invests in green technology, lifting corporate image and strengthening environmental protection are definitely the two major reasons. A company can also leverage this new industry trend to create advanced energy management technologies and seize the emerging opportunities.

Given the impact of mankind’s footprint on the environment, green technology should not only be welcomed, but in many regions it should be demanded and even regulated. For Advantech, moving in this direction provides benefits to both the future of industrial technology as well as the earth itself. With this in mind, we have developed the “Green Automation” initiative to aggressively develop Green HMI, Green Connect, and Green Device products.

So far, several of our HMI products have been Energy Star certified and many industrial communication products have reached superior energy efficiency standards and received awards as well. At the same time, we have successfully won many projects in smart grid related applications such as building energy management and renewable energy.

I believe that the development of green technologies not only can increase business opportunities, but also provide an excellent foundation for the future of industrial products. I can only hope that other industrial automation companies think the same as we do.

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