Schneider Electric firmly believes that access to energy and digital is a basic human right, says the company’s Middle East and Africa Operations President, Caspar Herzberg.
Tell us about your journey to becoming President of Schneider’s Middle East and Africa operations. What keeps you energized in driving this geographical zone for a major Fortune 500 company?
I’ve been with Schneider since April 2016 and have been working and collaborating with governments and business leaders across the world to achieve their Smart City ambitions for numerous years before joining. If there is one thing that I have learned, it is that modern cities, just like modern life, revolve around energy. The more you digitize the more they do so.
Schneider offers technology and services that are helping to bring about urban transformation to smart cities and help utilities, facilities, and homes become more efficient and sustainable. A collaborative approach in tackling today’s urban issues in terms of energy, mobility, sustainability, and overall wellbeing, is of paramount importance to Schneider Electric to build the cities of tomorrow.
We believe that access to energy and digital is a basic human right. We try and empower everyone to do more with less; ensuring life is on everywhere, for everyone at every moment.
Is climate change a business topic in the Middle East?
Middle Eastern businesses and leaders are extremely perceptive of global trends. Climate change cannot be ignored. Around 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions and 70% of energy consumption is attributed to buildings. Schneider’s focus is on the optimization of buildings, both from a cost and carbon footprint point of view. Beyond buildings, overall access to energy and power stability continues to be a very big topic here in the Middle East.
We have to reduce emissions by 50% in the next 20 years. Using digital to save energy is a potential path, as retrofitting and renewing buildings can save 30-50% of energy. If we retrofit 2% of our buildings globally every year, 40-50% of old structures will be renewed in 20 years. The important thing is to ensure the revamped buildings are saving 30-50% energy. The fact is that if we don’t do this, parts of the world, including this region, will become uninhabitable. It will be simply too hot.
Digitization uses a lot of energy though, what are your views on that?
A connected world indeed means more connected items that require more energy. Given their energy consumption, how affordable will our data centers be for the planet in the way they’re built right now? Having said that, a transition to digital allows us to be more efficient and has changed the way we work, connect and live together.
We have now entered the next phase of digitization, which connects machines to people and machine to machine—commonly referred to as IoT. Digitization is changing energy and automation from a foundational perspective. 5G will come on board in the next few years and 35% of 5G applications will be dedicated to the building and manufacturing environment. The acceleration cycle of big data collected from products that are connected to IoT, stored in one data center and driven by the power of artificial intelligence, will revolutionize everything we do in our business. An energy and digital transition will make you rethink your business process, save the planet and generate significant savings in both opex and capex.
You run the Middle East and Africa region out of Dubai. Why Dubai and what connects Dubai with Africa?
Dubai is our hub for the fast-growing Middle East and Africa business. With its regional integration and traditional business links, the Gulf has always been and continues to be a trading hub. Dubai is a central location, with good logistics and an attractive destination. It makes sense to be based here.
We are well distributed across the MEA region with several important hubs in Egypt, South Africa, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and many more. In essence, we have a multi-local presence in the region and are focused on developing local talents in cooperation with regional education institutions, providing local in-country value add and having real proximity to our customers.
There’s lots of talk of smart cities, and you have authored a book on the topic. What does it mean to you?
Smart cities are our future. In the next three decades, more than half of the world’s population is going to be living in such cities. Today most global cities are running on infrastructure designed and built in the nineteenth century. Technological innovation has created a new urban dynamic. We see older cities upgrading themselves and brand new cities rising from the drawing boards fully equipped with digital technologies that completely change the way cities operate and provide for their residents.
A smart city is one where citizens have embraced digital technology as a leading part of the city’s future. One which has all its public services merged and interconnected onto one platform. New smart cities are proving grounds for digitally-driven city services and older cities are gradually getting smarter, bringing intelligence to their utilities and infrastructure. Concretely this means that sustainable energy is used to power buildings.
Ecostruxure solutions focus on building management, making buildings pleasant to live and work in. It is also a digital solution focused on leakage detection and pump efficiency to reduce water wastage in cities by up to 80%. We are just at the beginning of understanding the potential. What’s critical is to create a platform that would manage power consumption and operational resources to make cities more livable and reduce the overall running cost.
At the end of the day, a smart city is a place people want to live. It’s a place where they use digital solutions to create sustainable levels of access to clean water and energy. Most people today are not there and that is the opportunity.