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According to Sallamaari Muhonen, cheap energy has slowed down the development of smart homes.
During times of cheap electricity, companies or consumers didn't have to worry about how much energy was consumed. There were also no significant or minor signals indicating the rise of an immediate and all-encompassing crisis in energy availability or soaring prices. Now the situation has developed dramatically, and every time one opens an electricity bill it’s a harrowing endeavor.
Energy usage has, of course, been under the microscope for a long time: large steel smelters and similar industrial plants with high energy consumption have already optimized their intake, because even small strides may grant considerable cost advantages. The energy crisis is forcing all companies to optimize their energy usage – and the same applies to consumers.
Households have been thoroughly educated as to how lighting, devices left on standby, and especially electric stoves and floor heating add up in energy expenditure. With current electricity prices the costs have soared wildly in comparison to the era of cheap energy.
Sallamaari Muhonen, CEO of the Finnish Electrotechnical Trade Association (STK), doesn’t want to delve too deep into consumer advice. STK’s bread and butter is technical wholesale, manufacturing, and import.
"Smart home solutions help to maintain our quality of life, while utilizing reasonable energy consumption. I believe that housing cooperatives and homeowners would be willing to do even more, provided there were easily applicable and automated new tools to install. During times when energy was cheap, there probably wasn’t significant demand to create software and devices that automatically combine data on electricity price predictions with monitoring and optimizing energy consumption".
According to Muhonen, this is unfortunate and almost embarrassing, given that value data has been openly available alongside automated technology for a long time. Those with coding capabilities find themselves having to code pieces of software for their own needs, as there are no ready-made products for price-driven administrative systems.
The tumultuous nature of the current energy landscape entails a lot of work for electrical professionals. Demand is especially high for electricians who possess mastery of digital construction technology and understand the potential in construction automation in terms of energy conservation.
"The flow of trends, investor input, and new laws dictate what directions new digital revolutions will take in construction technology, and there are significant takeaways for business applicability as well. The concern is whether the favorable development will get stuck in the bottleneck of a skills shortage", Muhonen reflects.
The amount of student applications for electrical and automation courses has remained high, but the four-year timespan required for an undergraduate degree offers no swift resolution for the current demand for professionals. The industry is also troubled by the amount of people dropping out. In Muhonen's opinion, the amount of classroom study as well as teacher vacancies should be increased intently in vocational schools.
"Apprenticeships alone are unlikely the answer, because in the construction engineering sector almost a third of businesses are SMEs with 1 to 3 employees. They rarely possess the capacity or pedagogical skills to train novices into professionals."
One viable solution for Muhonen is work-related immigration.
"Alongside new demands brought on by the critical times in energy consumption, we also have a number of aging electricians to find replacements for. Without all the aforementioned possible avenues to increase the number of experts, there is a viable threat that energy-saving solutions broad enough to be scaled to industrial demands will not be available quickly enough."
But not all is as bleak as it seems.
"Currently all companies want to figure out where they've been lax concerning their energy expenditure and how their operations could be optimized. It is positive from the point of view of the entrepreneur and the financier, as well as how it impacts Finland's energy independence and climate change", says Muhonen.
The challenge inherent in consumption control through optimization is that there is no magic bullet to solve everything in one fell swoop. Conservation of energy is derived from numerous small streams of change.
The needs of a green transition and disengagement from Russian energy production would also be met more swiftly via development of digital logistics, which is not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind concerning energy efficiency.
Muhonen gives us an example from the everyday life of construction projects:
"The industry teamed up with Aalto University to study the working days of electricians on construction sites via helmet cameras. Only about 25 per cent of active working hours are spent on actual installations, because most of the time is wasted due to a lack of planning and logistics: solutions are sought after on-site, and materials to be installed arrive at wrong places at wrong times".
The digital realm offers solutions to this problem as well.
Pace production is slowly becoming more common in construction. To strengthen efficiency, the construction process is divided into pace areas, and work phases are accordingly scheduled to run at the right pace from one location to another. It brings fluidity and reduces unnecessary work.
"Machine-readable data and digital product information are the basis for pace production. STK maintains these databases for electrical products. This helps weed out wasteful and fumbling practices", Muhonen retorts optimistically.
There are no singular quick solutions to the energy crisis, because the problems begin with unattractive education prospects and extend to the deep structures of working methods and logistics. Still, there are also positive developments. Most of them are reside in the familiar realm of digitalization, which in turn relies on effective data processing.
"We have the technology and the products – now we need the willpower and advocates to reap the full benefits of efficient energy consumption", Muhonen closes.
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