The path to achieving energy efficiency is shaped as much by attitudes and organizational skills as by the physical aspects of reducing energy demands. But its goals can never be achieved without the automation technologies that make it possible to mine information and control the operation of machines.
A 2009 study by the Aberdeen Group, a research and consulting firm, found that industry leaders seeking to reduce energy consumption at their facilities viewed energy management as strategic to their business success. The primary tools they applied in their endeavors included advanced visualization, information collection and consumption monitoring.
Among the best practices adopted by industry leaders in reducing energy consumption and costs, according to the study, are:
• Making energy usage data available to decision-makers in real time. The faster changes can be made to equipment operations, the greater the energy savings.
• Taking energy costs into account when scheduling production. Peak demand charges can account for as much as 60 percent of a company’s energy bills.
• Establishing metrics to quantify the benefits of energy management programs. If you don’t measure it, the activity can’t be valued.
• Tying operational metrics to financial metrics. It’s essential to understand how the costs of energy for production and facilities affect the company’s bottom line.
• Investing in technology to automate how energy data is collected and monitored. If you can’t see it, you can’t measure it or change it.
Since energy can constitute as much as 25 percent of a manufacturer’s operating costs, even small improvements can have a dramatic impact on the bottom line.
From a practical perspective, any energy management initiative must start by gaining an understanding of consumption patterns and cost sources from production processes and facilities. Here’s a go-to short list to kick off your initiative:
• Analyze energy utility contracts and penalties;
• Conduct an audit of all equipment and their energy sources—water, air, gas, electricity and steam (WAGES);
• Acquire and analyze energy consumption and cost data;
• Establish a consumption baseline; and
• Identify potential savings.
By first attacking the low-hanging fruit, such as leaks in compressed air and steam systems, lack of energy-efficient lighting and utility penalties for peak demand and reactive power, you’ll gain some early wins at minimal cost. A next step can include installing sub-meters to identify which production activities contribute the most to your energy bills.
Ultimately, prioritization means that you must first establish goals, and then phase in a planned program of corrective actions. Here’s an outline to follow as you establish your priorities and ensuing goals:
• Fix the basics;
• Focus on processes and assets that are high consumers of energy;
• Decide where and what to meter; and
• Develop a phased corrective plan.
Consider automated solutions
The bulleted list below highlights the predominant users of energy in an industrial facility for which automated solutions exist.
• Motors. Whether they power production equipment, cooling towers or pumps and fans in HVAC systems, motors are the biggest sources of industrial energy usage, as well as waste. Adding variable speed drives will better match energy use to operational requirements.
• Loads. Staggered start-times and software to prevent unscheduled equipment starts will help avoid peak demand penalties. Utility incentives for demand response programs can be substantial. Automated controls ensure essential loads keep working while minimizing costs.
• Lighting accounts for as much as 35 percent of energy bills. Programmable lighting controls turn off lights when rooms or production areas are not in use. Match illumination levels to task needs. Install energy-efficient bulbs and lighting fixtures.
• HVAC systems. Drives, automated air dampers and programmable thermostats can help limit energy usage correlated to operational needs.
• Power quality. If your plant is experiencing unexplained power outages and motor failures, or paying penalties for reactive power, low power factor and harmonics may be the cause. Upgrade capacitor banks or electrical equipment where necessary and install corrective filters to extend equipment life.
• Energy management. Using software to track power quality, meter energy use, and control remote monitoring systems will help you access energy information in an organized fashion that speeds decision-making and lets you know where to take corrective action.
Energy management is not a one-time event. To achieve sustained savings requires a proactive program of measurement, monitoring and preventive maintenance to make sure that equipment and systems are working in optimal fashion. Periodically measuring the progress achieved in reducing energy consumption and associated costs savings will build support for continuing improvements. As you go about measuring your progress, keep the following in mind:
• Always compare actual consumption to baseline;
• Measure and report all savings;
• Update plans and priorities based on what you learn from measurements;
• Incorporate preventive maintenance as part of the process to reduce downtime and increase savings potential.
The core takeaway of these tips is to realize that having a greater awareness of the cost of energy is the first step in changing attitudes about energy consumption and related behaviors in your facility. Following the best practices described above that have been developed and implemented by other processing companies can favorably impact your company’s bottom line.
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