With today’s emphasis on sustainability and reducing greenhouse gases (GHG), more companies than ever before are interested in energy efficiency programs. In fact, studies have shown that energy efficiency is the most cost-effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Beyond environmental aspects, energy efficiency is not a new concept in the chemical industry or any other energy-intensive industry. In those industries, energy is and has been a significant cost that cannot be ignored. And, in any industry, companies can profit from being more sustainable through energy conservation. So, how do you keep improving when many improvements have already been made?
- Employee Engagement
One of the challenges with energy management is that it tends to be less about completing a limited number of large projects and more about tackling energy efficiency improvements on many fronts. First and foremost, engaging employees at all levels should be a priority. Educating employees on the importance of energy efficiency is a great first step. Employees may have the opportunity for a small impact (turning off lights) or a large one (identifying opportunities to shut down unneeded equipment or taking calculated risks by operating fewer pieces of redundant equipment).
Regardless of the size of the savings, each employee plays an important role in promoting energy efficiency and generating an environment where it is incorporated into their daily work practices. Companies can also encourage awareness through communications on how to be more energy efficient at home. Similar to safety programs, benefits can be achieved by encouraging employees to embed energy efficiency into their thinking both at home and at work. Energy Star offers many helpful tools and programs to corporate partners, including posters, brochures and awards.
Feedback is important. While energy intensity (energy per unit of product) is widely accepted as a companywide measure of energy efficiency, other more discrete measures should be used to provide more frequent information to targeted audiences. Energy Star Portfolio Manager provides benchmark data comparing an individual building’s performance to other similar buildings across the country. Individual manufacturing areas may choose a more sophisticated approach by incorporating real-time measures allowing for operational adjustments to optimize performance as part of a distributed control system.
- Thinking Outside the Box
In addition to building performance, a company may identify other systems outside the manufacturing process that present both opportunities for energy conservation and a centralized management approach. Examples include improved lighting, repairing air and steam leaks and insulation. Additional benefits may be achieved from these efforts. For example, replacing obsolete lights with more efficient LEDs results in not only energy savings but also improved safety and reduced maintenance. The more efficient bulbs have a longer life and require replacement less often, thus reducing maintenance costs and hours employees must work at elevated heights. These kinds of opportunities also lend themselves to identification of best practices that can be broadly shared across diverse manufacturing areas or sites.
- Maintaining Momentum
While the traditional approach of completing energy efficiency projects does not constitute an entire program, they are an important piece of the puzzle and should continue. Everyone should be encouraged to submit energy savings ideas. A team of engineers can be trained to review processes to identify additional opportunities. A database can easily be built to capture those ideas. Preferably, the database can be designed so that it can be sorted and prioritized based on several criteria, such as costs, likelihood of success, GHG emissions reduction and/or cost savings. If management establishes a budget for energy reduction projects, this will not only encourage their completion but serve to highlight the importance of the energy efficiency initiative.
- Leveraging Relationships
Finally, it is important to access resources both inside and outside the company. Synergies with internal divisions should be explored. For example, engineering could include consideration of energy efficiency in design and research could encourage investigation and incorporation of new technologies. Management support is crucial, and an advisory committee or steering team made up of senior executives can provide needed guidance. External relationships are important as well. On-site contractors need to be included in the education effort and initiatives. Specialty consultants can provide needed expertise for particular areas such as HVAC or heat integration.
Maintaining the Gains
Just as completed projects are not enough, continued vigilance is needed to maintain gains. There’s a saying that “low hanging fruit grows back.” Without standardized processes and plans in place, employees may begin forgetting to turn off equipment, insulation may be removed for maintenance and not replaced or new leaks may not be repaired. Many aspects of energy efficiency are not that difficult to implement or that technically challenging, but without a disciplined approach, loss of gains will occur.
Sharon Nolen, PE, CEM, is manager of the Worldwide Energy Program at Eastman.