The energy managers’ deadlock
When energy managers of industrial or manufacturing organizations think of energy management systems, the first thing that crosses their mind is the need for extended and costly metering. They are right. The more granular the energy consumption data throughout the process, the more effective the energy management system will be in identifying the most energy savings opportunities. Therefore, the energy managers look at extending the metering infrastructure as an essential prerequisite to an energy management system.
However, when the energy managers attempt to define and initiate projects for upgrading and extending the metering infrastructure, their efforts fall short of being approved by the top management. The reason is mainly the lack of available data or arguments to justify the cost for such projects over the more traditional ones. After all, without a proper energy management system, how can they have enough data to back their claims on the return on investment?
This is why energy managers find themselves in a frustrating deadlock which makes it very difficult for them to make any progress towards implementation of an energy management system in their organizations.
In many cases, the alternative is to resort to creating in-house, automation-based monitoring tools in order to improve the visibility. However, most of these tools are extremely limited in scope and usability. The all-important analysis, trending and reporting functions are either very limited or non-existent.
Can this loop be broken? Is it possible to skip on the costly metering projects and implement an energy management system that will get good results despite the lack of metering?
Make the most of what you already have
Even with minimal metering, there are potentially great gains to be made by implementing an energy management system. A higher level of awareness combined with proper trending and analytical tools can have its advantages:
Advantage 1: Easier to identify the low-hanging-fruits
Could monitoring of just the main meters in say, a production facility, produce positive results? Yes, it could, if the objectives are kept simple. In the typical facility, there are a lot of cases of ongoing energy waste that may very well be known to everyone. However, many of these cases are overlooked due to lack of awareness towards their magnitude and cost. This lack of awareness, or even ignorance, is in part the result of not having the proper monitoring tools available.
Here are a couple of examples of how some low-hanging-fruit cases can be identified by simple monitoring and trending:
- Process tweaks
There are many energy saving procedures and protocols that can be implemented in order to make a process more energy efficient. But without a proper monitoring and trending tool, it would not be possible to assess the results of such actions in real time. Being able to detect even the small energy fluctuations as a result of a procedural change allow the energy manager to identify the effectiveness of that action right away and ensure sustained continuation of the new procedures. This can amount to significant savings.
- Hardware problems
A given operation has an expected consumption expectation and pattern. These patterns can be monitored in order to ensure that they are within the expected range. Any deviations from these ranges provide the energy managers with the ability to detect problems that can be due to a procedural flaw, faulty equipment, leaky air pump or any other abnormal conditions. It may be difficult to pinpoint the problem quickly due to limited metering. But at least the problem is detected and actions can be taken.
In an industrial environment, such actions may amount to hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars in savings each year. It would be very difficult for any management to dismiss such numbers. In this case, the energy manager can enjoy a much more favorable position when proposing the metering or any related projects.
Advantage 2: Corporate responsibility culture building can start right away
One of the biggest challenges that energy managers face is building a culture of corporate and environmental responsibility within an organization. To achieve this, much effort must be spent on advertising and marketing of the energy efficiency values within the organization. However, these marketing efforts would not be effective without quantifiable success stories to back them up. Taking successful actions on the low-hanging-fruits can provide the momentum needed by the energy managers to rally up the organization behind themselves and their vision.
Advantage 3: Easy access to energy information and reports
An enterprise energy management system will hold all energy data of the organization’s various operations in one central place. This makes it much easier for the energy managers to access the data and analyse it. They can quickly look at trends, costing as well as environmental reports such as GHG and carbon reports effortlessly. This makes it much quicker and easier to perform the necessary analysis required to pursue their initiatives.
Revive the energy management project by simplifying the scope
If metering is not an essential component to get some positive preliminary results, then postponing it to a later phase would be a viable option. What if the energy management project was broken down into several phases? This would lower the initial costs of the project and allow it to move forward rather than having it idle indefinitely. As success stories mount and the management gets on board, the energy managers will have the leverage they need to back their claims as well as to justify their more ambitious projects.
The topic brought up in this article is the result of the author’s observations in interacting with many energy managers. The purpose here is to suggest alternative avenues and find a viable solution to the energy management deadlock.
The concept of real-time energy management systems as an essential component of sustainable improvement and optimization is still new in the industrial and manufacturing sectors. The capabilities and benefits of such systems remain ambiguous and complex in the minds of many. Therefore proposing such projects to any management team is challenging. Let alone getting the required capital allocated to move the project forward.
For this reason, it may be advisable for the energy managers to reduce the scope of such projects in terms of required capital and resources. The best way to do this is to start simple and use the energy management system with the existing hardware and focus only on the low hanging fruits and culture building. If managed properly, a lot of potential success can be expected. These success stories can be harvested not only to raise more capital for energy related projects but to build and promote a thriving energy efficiency culture within the organization.
However energy managers should remember that as time goes by, their projects’ scope and complexity will grow. They need to ensure that their favorite energy management system is up to the challenge when that time comes.
Hooman Fazlollahi is the director of development for the Energy Methods software which is a complete suite of energy management tools for industrial and commercial enterprises.