The recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a sobering assessment of the impact that increased carbon emissions are already and increasingly having on the planet. Recent deadly floods, severe droughts, dangerous wildfires and scorching temperatures in the Pacific Northwest are just a preview of what the future could bring if immediate action isn’t taken to reduce global warming.
Investors are also taking note, and asking companies to publicly report their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) performance; disclose their climate-related risks and opportunities; and align their business models with the goals of the Paris Agreement. These issues have companies and individuals around the world wondering how they can take action to address climate change. The good news is that technicians in every sector are already making a big impact, although their employers may not realize it or be able to track and report the impact.
Maintenance’s impact on sustainability
The proper maintenance of equipment and infrastructure in the building, industry and energy sectors can have a significant impact on climate mitigation and resilience. One primary way is through greater energy efficiency. Implementation of operations and maintenance best practices were found to reduce annual energy use in buildings by 5-20%. The cost savings of these measures are generally low-cost/no-cost measures with paybacks ranging from a couple of months to two years.
Maintenance of air-conditioning systems is especially critical as cooling currently represents seven percent of global emissions and is expected to grow significantly in the coming decades. Effective optimization, monitoring and maintenance can save up to 20% of energy use in cooling equipment which translates to 30 gigatons of greenhouse gas emission reductions through 2050. This is equivalent to the carbon emissions produced by 25 coal-fired power plants per year. Refrigerants used in supermarkets are also a large source of greenhouse gas emissions as the chemicals used are short-lived super-pollutants with thousands of times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. Without proper refrigerant maintenance and management, 25% of refrigerant can be lost per year resulting in thousands of metric tons of fugitive emissions.
In industrial applications, proper maintenance can save even more energy. Between 20-30% of energy used in compressed air systems is wasted through air leakage. Routine maintenance can significantly reduce these leaks, which cost up to $4000 per year in energy waste. Maintenance also improves the efficiency and reliability of critical equipment in the energy sector. With climate change increasing the demands on centralized energy infrastructure and distributed backup generation, maintenance has a critical role in improving resiliency to emergency events. Proper maintenance also extends equipment life in all sectors, which reduces the carbon emissions associated with the material sourcing and production of replacement equipment and parts.
Awareness that proper maintenance delivers significant climate benefits is a good start but tracking the activities and estimating the impacts is even better. This is where a field automation platform, such as ProntoForms, can provide greater value to organizations delivering maintenance for their own operations or their customers. I suspect that most companies haven’t yet connected the dots between the maintenance activities their technical operations teams are undertaking and the information and impacts their sustainability teams are tracking for their ESG reporting. Maintenance automation platforms can help connect those dots through data and analysis, giving companies credit for actions they are already taking.