The first step out of the energy hole – stop digging.
The first law of holes says, “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” It is attributed by Wikipedia to British politician Denis Healey. This seemingly self-evident piece of advice seems to have escaped most of the talkers on both sides of the global warming controversy. The effort to stop digging seems to have been replaced by a focus on affixing blame for the hole and finding ways to punish, or at least tax, those who are deemed responsible by those who deem themselves empowered to assign responsibility.
Both sides of the argument have retained scientists, universities and PR firms to carry on a long, loud and pointless blame game. Of late the battleground seems to be turning to the issue of whether the winter of 2013-14, a cold, stormy affair, negates the notion of global warming or whether it underscores the ecological damage that has caused a rash of storms and other unusual weather.
Everybody knows that everybody on the planet is burning irreplaceable lubricants to heat the outdoors. Whatever damage it’s doing to the weather, it’s a huge waste of money and other finite resources. Perhaps it’s time for those of us in industry show them how to act. We who spend our time working to solve problems instead of posturing about them could provide an example to our alleged leaders and address the digging that is putting all industrial nations in a hole with regard to energy. Here are a few thoughts that might help us address the financial and ecological hole in which we seem to find ourselves:
- Transmission and distribution line losses in the US electrical grid average 6 to 8% of the power that runs through the system. Longer lines mean larger losses; think about it. At my house 6 to 8% would be about $10 or 12 a month. This power is converted to, guess what, atmospheric heat.
- Something like ¾ of the nation’s carbon footprint is created in the process of steam generation. Stack losses and other process inefficiency drives steam production efficiency down around 50%. That’s before the transmission losses on the grid. Those inefficiencies are expelled as, guess what, atmospheric heat. (http://www.plantservices.com/articles/2013/system-wide-approach-energy-conservation/?start=0)
- Fewer than 10% of the steam plants that power industrial and residential facilities have maintenance programs that even list steam traps and other basic system components, let alone follow modern maintenance procedures to ensure efficiency and safety. The resulting leaks, excessive purges, and other system failures all result in, guess what, unnecessary atmospheric heat.
- Off-the-shelf improvements are available to make huge improvements in nearly all of these heat losses. If the fixes are properly planned and executed, most will show immediate, predictable financial improvements that will pay for them promptly. (http://www.nema.org/Products/Documents/TDEnergyEff.pdf)
- State and federal tax incentives are available to help with many kinds of energy efficiency improvements today. (http://www1.eere.energy.gov/manufacturing/states/pdfs/state_ee_tax_incentives_for_industry.pdf)
We in industry know that we can stop paying a huge percentage of our energy bills to fund inefficiencies in the production and distribution systems that do us no good whatsoever. If we plug the leaks in the systems under our control, wherever we are, we will reap financial rewards for our employers and we will point the way for a reduction in energy waste.
One plant that took resource stewardship seriously is Frito Lay, Fayetteville, TN. They won the 2011 North American Maintenance Excellence award (NAME) in 2011. Here is the URL for a writeup that discusses their approach and some of the cultural underpinnings that made it work. (http://www.mt-online.com/july2012/on-the-road-to-sustainability-the-souths-sustainable-snack-maker)
Our leaders in Washington have shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that their focus is partisan wrangling and blame fixing. No progress will come on this important issue from them, but if we industrial types work together to improve our stewardship of fuel and other resources, we will become more profitable and competitive. Who knows? Maybe we’ll show the posers how to reduce some of their wasted energy. After all, most of it manifests itself as, guess what, hot air.
Read Stanton McGroarty's monthly column Strategic Maintenance.