Wanted: wasted energy

How to capture the reward of higher efficiency.

By Paul Studebaker, CMRP, Editor in Chief

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Many maintenance, operations and engineering managers argue that notwithstanding the recent hype, energy management has been on their agendas since the first energy crisis in 1973. Others say that much more has to be done in the name of corporate social responsibility, green, sustainability and saving our planet. Then, there are the pragmatists who need to see a payback as with any other project or capital purchase. Many need a push from government through regulatory pressures or demands from customers. Finally, some assert that energy-management initiatives are an excellent marketing or public relations opportunity targeting customers, employees, shareholders, suppliers, government, media, special interest or lobby groups, and the general public.

“The good news is that none of these are mutually exclusive,” says David Berger, P.Eng., partner, Western Management Consultants (www.wmc.on.ca). Some energy-reduction initiatives have always been there and will continue long into the future, like ensuring a building is well-insulated and properly sealed. These same measures benefit the environment by reducing waste, have a solid business case and are good for marketing purposes.

“So, it should come as no surprise that, regardless of your rationale, adopting an aggressive energy-management program is the right thing to do, independent of your industry, size or location,” Berger says. “And many of the possible initiatives under such a program are low-cost and easy to implement.”

Assemble a posse

The energy team will be different in every facility, but has some characteristics in common. “The team will be multidisciplinary and include production engineers, maintenance, financial, procurement, and production workers and supervisors,” says Peter Garforth, principal, Garforth International (www.garforthint.com). “The leader often will be someone who self-selects because of a personal passion about energy, and it’s not unusual for individuals on the team to have deeply held personal values around using it rationally.” Successful teams meet regularly, develop clear action plans that are updated regularly and learn to act as opportunities arise. They measure results, they engage as many employees as needed, and they understand that it’s about maintaining continuous focus.

“Often, people don’t try to stretch themselves or the people closest to the process don’t have the skill set. They become overwhelmed at the totality. They think, ‘What can I do?’” says Randall Witte, CEM, president, Emc2 ConServ Inc. (http://lighthouse-us-inc.com). “Stop and look at the system and ask, ‘What if?’

If you see something you question, ask about it. You might not have the whole answer, but don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. Seek out others and ask.”

An overriding characteristic of a successful site energy team is an insatiable appetite to learn more about energy use and procurement and dig out the opportunities through creativity and focus. “Maintaining this passion creates a challenge to their leadership to make available educational tools, and most importantly, to reward and recognize team efforts,” Garforth adds. “Obviously, it also challenges leadership to consistently underline the importance of achieving energy breakthroughs through words and actions. Every senior manager visiting plants should ask energy questions and expect to see an energy progress update. As with safety, if the questions are asked often, the answers get better.”

Known whereabouts

Some energy-saving opportunities, such as lighting, are pretty obvious. Some can be readily identified by experts or consultants, for example, air compressor controls. Some, like motor management, give reliable results over time if you support a consistent program with a persistent leader. These relatively large, well-defined projects can be identified, quantified and executed by a small number of experts, engineers and managers.

In a typical facility, one-fourth of energy cost savings come from capital projects external experts identify and one-fourth from managing energy procurement more effectively, says Garforth,. One-fourth result from capital projects identified from within the plants themselves, “usually with returns in excess of 20%,” he says, and “in my experience, typically a quarter of the gains come from low-cost measures that pay back in less than a year.”

If 25% to 50% of energy savings are to come from within the plant, it makes sense to build energy awareness, gather ideas and recognize results on the floor. Good management supports plant-floor efforts with goals and rewards.

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