Who monitors and manages plant energy consumption?

Energy monitoring reveals where the money goes.

By Mike Bacidore, chief editor

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With energy prices continuing to climb, organizations clearly have flagged consumption as an area that needs to be monitored and managed. In the United States alone, electricity prices have risen from $0.05/kWh on average to more than $0.07 during the past 10 years, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Complex industrial rate structures dependent upon peak demand periods are motivating organizations more than ever to determine when and where the power is going. But what are plants doing to minimize their costs, and who is keeping an eye on consumption and the energy spend?

David Lee, instrumentation technician specialist for the Ontario Clean Water Agency (OCWA) in Mississauga, Ontario, says it’s the plant manager who not only is responsible for the plant’s energy costs, but also has a vested interest in avoiding machine downtime with condition monitoring and proactive maintenance practices. “Because most of our clients are municipalities with tight budgets, most power monitoring decisions are based on ROI,” explains Lee. “When I say ‘plant manager,’ essentially that is an OCWA employee who takes complete operational ownership of the water and wastewater facilities for a municipal client. When I say he has a vested interest in the power monitoring, it is because by installing power monitoring and eventually reducing electrical costs, the client will see these savings. Of course, this increases the likelihood that the client would continue to choose OCWA as the operator of choice. One plant manager recently told me that if it were not for the power monitoring installed, he probably would not have been able to justify purchasing an energy-efficient $200,000 turbo blower.”

At different plants, energy-cost responsibility can sometimes fall on the shoulders of certain individuals or on groups, explains Zach Bryson, project manager, Keithly Electric, a contractor located in Seattle. “The typical individual might be a production manager, plant manager or engineering manager,” he says. “World-class manufacturing organizations will typically have an energy conservation or monitoring peer group that can be comprised of engineering, maintenance, production and plant management.”

Many plants have performance incentives that are based around production and total quality management, continues Bryson. “Goals are typically set via a measurable metric, such as cost per unit manufactured or average units processed/hr or plant production vs. plant availability,” he explains.

Marty Aaron, product line manager, software and meters business unit, at Eaton, says her company runs into a variety of people who are responsible for energy costs. “There are plant managers or facility managers,” she explains. “It might be the CIO or the CFO. We see it kind of split out, depending on the corporation or the business. CIOs more on the power quality side, given the charge to manage the facility. Way back when, the facilities guy or gal never talked with the IT guy, but that has blurred. In the end, it all translates to operational effectiveness and profit. All of those people have some type of incentive program in place to reduce costs or improve profitability or an ROI.”

The facility operations manager is typically responsible for overall costs, but may need to request access to the utility bills from the accounting department, explains Frank Healy, power quality product marketing manager at Fluke. “In other words, he may not have regular visibility into the utility costs for his operation,” he says. “When it comes to conducting an audit, the facility manager will engage his staff electricians to conduct the actual power monitoring.” Whether that same individual has a vested interest in avoiding machine downtime and proactive maintenance practices, it depends on the philosophy of the facility owner, says Healy. “Most facilities are now so lean that they can no longer afford reactive maintenance, where machinery is allowed to run-to-fail,” he says. “Now, facilities report they need to make due with or take care of what they have and are more willing to invest the time required for proactive maintenance. In facilities of that nature, yes, the facility operations manager makes the call to prioritize proactive maintenance activities on his staff.”

A system might be deployed to address reliability and monitoring. When it becomes evident this same system is also tracking energy use, a different type of user may want access as well.
A system might be deployed to address reliability and monitoring. When it becomes evident this same system is also tracking energy use, a different type of user may want access as well. Source: Schneider Electric

Greg Lado, energy solutions manager at Schneider Electric, says the size of the company often determines who’s responsible for energy costs. “Large companies tend to have a dedicated energy manager, but organizations that are smaller or growing have one person that wears many hats,” he explains. “In some cases, we see accounting get involved, too. But generally it seems to track with the size of the company and the number of stakeholders who need the energy and power information.”

Sometimes the group that cares most about energy consumption is different from the group that is tasked with keeping everything running, says Lado. “The power monitoring system ends up becoming the common ground between groups,” he explains. “For example, a system might be deployed to address a key goal like power reliability and monitoring. When it becomes evident this same system is also tracking energy use, a different type of user may want access as well. An example is a critical power user like a data center. Because reliability is the main concern in that type of an environment, oftentimes the operations person isn’t as interested in data center effectiveness and the equipment efficiency.”

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