Bees, worms and solar power

The Siemens Midrand site in South Africa has arrived in the cloud in a bid to improve sustainability. The upgrade of energy and building systems of the location reduced power costs by as much as 40%. It generates its own electricity via photovoltaic panels and stores excess power in the Siestorage system. Data transparency also offers insights into consumption and assists with facility maintenance. And we shouldn’t forget the bees, to say nothing of a small worm farm...

Sustainable real estate management

Siemens and South Africa

When it was built in 1996, the Siemens site in Midrand, South Africa, was in a relatively isolated spot on the outskirts of Johannesburg, halfway to Pretoria – in a suburb called the “Halfway House”. In the meantime, Midrand has become one of the fastest-growing urban areas and Siemens Park is a well-known landmark in this region. Around 400 Siemens employees work on this site.

 

Siemens Real Estate (SRE) has started to work on an extensive program of technical improvements with a view to optimizing the buildings. The site is now much more sustainable thanks to a number of fundamental changes. For example, a photovoltaic system (PV) was installed over much of the parking areas and building roofs and has been in operation since April 2018. It is linked to the site energy grid via a SICAM microgrid controller and forms a so-called Distributed Energy System (DES) together with other components.

With an installed peak capacity of 998 kWp, the system currently supplies around 40% of the site’s power requirements. The majority of the photovoltaic modules are installed above the parking areas, which has the positive side effect of providing welcome shade for employees’ vehicles in the South African sun. Electricity flows directly into the site grid and also feeds straight into the e-car charging points in the staff car park. Any excess is fed back into the grid. 

Siemens technology helps prevent power outages

But that’s not all. In September 2018, Siemens installed an energy storage known as Siestorage, which makes it possible to store excess electricity. This can be used to counteract the power failures experienced in the greater Johannesburg area, and to shave off load peaks. Siemens also offers extensive energy meter data management to provide consumption figures for individual buildings and floors. The photovoltaic system, meter network, and DESIGO CC building management system provided by Smart Infrastructure are linked to information on energy prices and weather data, assessed, and controlled by a cloud-based platform, EnergyIP. This IoT solution, unique to Siemens, enables extensive analyses to be performed and can also be extended to include other decentralized facilities and systems.  

 

Sebastian Granow, former head of SRE South Africa, summed it up as follows: “By creating intelligent links between the various Siemens products, we have managed to make the site fundamentally more sustainable. We generate our own power and have reduced our energy and water requirements considerably in the process. Our selected solutions have led to a digitalized and optimized site, even though it was designed and constructed in the analog era. The resulting data transparency can now be used to convert the operating model from a work-intensive approach to an analysis-based approach, for example. Information from the individual facilities is visualized in a 3D model of the site and linked directly to the operator’s management system. We still have a long list of ideas for further applications and analysis opportunities, and we are fully aware that we are in the very early stages of this process.”

  • Energy costs are lower by an average of around 40% per year.
  • We have been able to make huge cuts in peak load power consumption phases.
    In turn, this has had an impact on the energy supplier’s pricing model. Costs are lower.
  • Maintenance of the facilities in question is linked to usage data, so carried out as required, saving costs and protecting the facilities in the process.
  • Working hours can be used more effectively within Facility Management (FM). FM specialists can also identify unnecessary use of power and water sooner, and act accordingly.
  • 60 smart electricity meters make it easier to produce separate bills to reflect individual consumption in different parts of buildings and floors.
  • A digital twin was created for the site from a combination of drone images and 3D indoor scans, which were then processed digitally and the associated assets were linked together.

Sustainable for fauna and flora

The landscaped areas at Midrand have also been redesigned in recent months. In many parts of the site, lawned areas and flowerbeds have made way for native plants that need little or no irrigation and are now cultivated in the company’s own nursery. All organic waste generated in the site canteen is recycled on site by first allowing it to decompose in a Bokashi bin, before adding it to a worm farm, and then returning it to nature after a couple more composting stages.

 

The site’s water feature was converted from chemical to biological cleaning by using aquatic plants and fish. Biodiversity is also hugely important in Siemens Park, the aim being to encourage a variety of insects and birds to the site by using exclusively indigenous plant species. Another positive side effect is the Siemens own honey harvest. As a nice touch, Midrand honey is then gifted exclusively to customers to reinforce the sustainable nature of Siemens products and operations. 

Using a digital twin to optimize operations

Alongside the various installations, the SRE team are in the process of creating a digital twin for the site, which has now been in existence nearly 25 years. A three-dimensional model of the site was produced using a combination of internal photographs and drone images. This digital model with the various assets and technical components forming part of the site can be used to link and facilitate future design projects and tendering for services, as well as day-to-day operations. This will go on to benefit designers, FM service providers, and users alike. 

A true model project for Siemens products

Sabine Dall’Omo, CEO of Siemens South Africa, was delighted: “The project is a showcase to current and prospective customers on a proven Siemens solution that will help them save energy, cut costs, lower carbon emissions and to ensure uninterrupted power. Microgrids and Distributed Energy Solutions are the ideal solution for Africa because they’re designed for a specific purpose, be it communities or industry. It also means you can have diverse power supplies, such as solar or wind during the day, then switch over to other forms of generation like biomass when the conditions for renewables are poor.”

 

It will take around ten years to recoup the outlay on the DES, making this a truly convincing business case across the board. Sebastian Granow from SRE is now regularly asked to talk to real estate managers, media and Siemens customers about the project. The relevant Siemens units are able to use these case studies in their sales operations. On this basis, perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Siemens won the Digital Solution of the Year award at the Africa Utility Week (AUW) Industry Gala Awards in 2018 for the technology used at Midrand.