Entrade AG CEO Julien Uhlig had a vision. In 2009, he analyzed his marketplace of energy consumers and recognized a critical need. There were locations across the globe without access to off-grid power sources that could supply cheap and reliable power in a highly sustainable way. His company, a European-based OEM specializing in machine building, initially thought they would pursue a traditional role of building their state-of-the-art micro power generation plants and then drive profits by selling the machines to customers in need. Then digitization happened and changed everything.
The challenge that Entrade AG was facing involved how to deliver a solution to energy-eager customers without having to hire hundreds of people to manage the micro power generation machines across the globe. Uhlig and his company needed a flexible approach where his machines could be operated remotely in a safe manner. Entrade AG also required a partner with a global presence that possessed a high degree of expertise in both energy and controls automation. In addition, Uhlig faced the ecological challenge of how to generate power with low carbon, locally-supplied fuels.
A “perfect storm” developed when Entrade AG met with experts from Schneider Electric to design their new generation of modular scalable micro power plants. As the new solution began to unfold on planning session flip charts, it became apparent that new breakthroughs in digitization and cloud- based technologies not only made it possible to distribute the power generation machines globally, but that it would also be more beneficial to sell the output of the machines, as opposed to selling the machines outright. The users could have access to power without the expense of buying a machine, while Entrade AG could drive more profit as a provider of those energy services. A key new critical success factor—the ability to remotely monitor, control and operate their machines from their small control center in Austria, at a very low cost—is what allowed Uhlig’s vision to become a reality.
The unique value-add of a highly sustainable solution
The machines that Entrade AG builds consist of fully automatic, transportable micro power plants and they are testing over 200 feedstocks —from nut shells, leaves, plastic bags and bottles to shredded car tires— to generate power. These unique machines serve the dual purpose of ridding the local environment of much of its bulky trash and using it to produce energy that enhances the quality of life of the local residents.
Installed in self-enclosed shipping containers (up to four per container), the power plants create gas through a biomass gasification process that fuels a combustion motor which, in turn, drives a generator. The current installed base of Entrade AG machines consists of single units capable of 50 kW of output to scaled collections of some 60 containers with 240 assemblies producing a combined output of 32 MW of thermal energy (set up to support the largest industrial park in the UK near Liverpool, England). The current reliability statistics of these new plants are impressive as they operate, on average, for 8,000 hours a year.
The digitization technology that helped to make it happen
Several technological elements converged to allow Entrade AG to move forward with their new, innovative business model. Schneider Electric introduced a set of integrated digitized tools that were easily and inexpensively connected to each other under an architecture called EcoStruxure Machine. The three layers of the architecture include connected products, edge control and software/analysis/connected apps. The architecture enabled edge control with web server connectivity capability (for collecting data from Modicon M241 PLCs at the site of the machine), virtual private network (VPN) connectivity allowing access to the cloud, and also mature software applications such as Wonderware and EcoStruxure Resource Advisor to allow for efficient management and analysis of remote operations. These elements, combined under a cybersecure envelope, allowed for the development of a new services-based business model that had been neither technically feasible nor financially possible just three years ago.
The new digitization platform has also provided Entrade AG with a solid foundation for building additional new services-related revenue streams like remote predictive maintenance. Soon the power consumers will be the beneficiaries of even higher machine uptimes as their energy production and consumption profiles can be more precisely managed.