Developing An Energy Action Plan

Taking a systematic approach to your energy saving opportunities will net impressive results. Follow these six steps to develop an energy savings action plan for your plant or corporation:

Step 1: Track Energy Bills

The first step is to determine how much you pay for energy at your facility. This will provide a baseline from which to measure your overall progress and allow you to calculate cost savings from specific energy-saving measures. Get the energy bills for electricity, natural gas and fuel oil for the last year and determine your total annual energy costs by fuel type and your per-unit energy costs (in the appropriate units).

A useful resource for this exercise is the "Self-Assessment Workbook for Small Manufacturers," available from Rutgers University, Office of Industrial Productivity and Energy Assessment.

Step 2: Identify Big Uses -- Develop a List of the Plant's Major Energy-Consuming Equipment

Next, identify the equipment that uses the most energy in your plant. In many plants, a minority of the equipment accounts for the majority of energy consumption. Things to look for include large pieces of equipment and equipment that runs most of the time or that has periodic, but substantial, start-up energy requirements (such as a bank of electric motors). A typical equipment list at a manufacturing plant will include machinery in the following categories:

Natural Gas

  • Heating/Cooling/Ventilating Equipment (e.g., infrared heaters, hot water heaters, steam boilers)
  • Production Equipment (e.g., steam boilers, process heaters)

Electricity

  • Air Compressors
  • Heating/Cooling/Ventilating Equipment (e.g., rooftop heat pumps and air conditioners)
  • Production Equipment (e.g., motor-driven equipment, pumps, fans)

Fuel Oil

  • Heating/Cooling/Ventilating Equipment (e.g., steam boilers)

Step 3: Identify Low-Cost Projects

Now that you know how much energy is being used and what pieces of equipment are your likely "energy drains," check out this list of top 20 best practices to see which of these might apply to you. Get rapid returns by identifying and implementing some of these quick and easy projects.

Best Practices For All Combustion Systems

  1. Operate furnaces and boilers at or close to design capacity.
  2. Reduce excess air.
  3. Clean heat-transfer surfaces.
  4. Reduce radiation losses from openings.
  5. Use proper furnace or boiler insulation to reduce wall heat losses.
  6. Adequately insulate air- or water-cooled surfaces exposed to the furnace environment and steam lines leaving the boiler.
  7. Install heat recovery equipment.

Best Practices For Steam Generation Systems

  1. Improve water treatment to minimize boiler blowdown.
  2. Optimize deaerator vent rate.
  3. Repair steam leaks.
  4. Minimize vented steam.
  5. Implement an effective steam trap maintenance program.
  6. Use high pressure condensate to make low pressure steam.
  7. Utilize backpressure turbine instead of pressure release valves.
  8. Optimize condensate recovery.

Best Practices For Process Heating Systems

  1. Minimize air leakage into the furnace by sealing openings.
  2. Maintain proper, slightly positive furnace pressure.
  3. Reduce weight of or eliminate material handling fixtures.
  4. Modify the furnace system or use a separate heating system to recover furnace exhaust gas heat.
  5. Recover part of the furnace exhaust heat for use in lower temperature processes.

Step 4: Get Management Support

Management support is essential -- it will allow you to be proactive in going after opportunities and getting the training you need to identify and make improvements. For projects that require a capital investment or significant changes to current operating practices (i.e., "habits"), you'll have to do some convincing. The first three steps of this action plan will have given you some good data to grab the attention of your management and co-workers. At this stage, your goal is to show the value of energy-saving measures and the potential cost and productivity advantages of a more aggressive energy efficiency program.

Step 5: Form an Energy Team

Energy teams in manufacturing facilities track and report energy use, identify energy-saving opportunities, develop an energy plan and implement cost-saving measures. Energy teams typically include members from plant and process engineering, maintenance engineering, procurement and production. The teams may have anywhere from two to two-dozen members. Any energy team will enjoy greater success with support and involvement from senior managers, who can remove barriers and commit resources to projects.

Performing a formal energy assessment is one of the best ways your team can develop a cost-effective plan to lower plant energy costs. The energy assessment team (which sometimes includes outside experts in energy management and troubleshooting) works both during and after the assessment process to:

  • Evaluate all the industrial systems to calculate how and where your plant uses energy.
  • Help find opportunities to increase efficiency.
  • Determine potential upgrades and emerging technologies that might work for your plant.
  • Implement cost-saving measures.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) experience indicates a typical plant can realize annual energy cost savings of 10 to 20 percent following a thorough plant-wide assessment.

See "A Highly Successful Holistic Approach to a Plant-Wide Energy Management System," (Steam Digest, 2001).

Step 6: Develop a Strategy

The final step is to create a strategy for sustaining plant-wide efforts to improve and maintain the efficiency of your energy systems. Keep staff motivated to achieve the thousands or millions of dollars in cost savings possible at your plant through monthly or bi-monthly meetings of the energy team, tracking and reporting on your energy and cost savings, spot-bonus awards for involved staff, periodic re-assessments of equipment and opportunities, and replicating your team's assessment methodology in other plants.

Tips are from DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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