Disruptions are major opportunities to accelerate energy productivity. They are also often the cause of regrets about “what might have been.” Any major shift in the status quo opens a window for implementing deep energy-efficiency measures that might otherwise be impossible. However, these opportunities can be maximized only if the energy game plan is ready to go.
Even planned disruptions may have significant uncertainty in timing or scope based on budgetary or market factors. Every energy manager should have an agreed-upon approach to factoring energy improvement into various types of disruptions. As is often the case in effective energy management, this starts with having a clear multiyear energy and climate game plan. It goes without saying that the plan needs to be at least directionally approved, even if some tactical questions remain about implementation.
This plan for the energy end game will cover the information, control, and metering layer and end-use efficiency measures of all types. It will also include the migration of electrical and thermal distribution within and between facilities along with changes in the energy supply mix. As important as the map of the technical measures, the plan will also include the budgeting and decision-making process changes necessary to move implementation forward.
Armed with this energy road map, the energy manager should be able to view all disturbances as opportunities to accelerate energy and climate productivity gains at lower net costs than would otherwise be the case.
Market or economic downturns may, paradoxically, be significant opportunities. A production line may temporarily shut down or a building may be underused or even vacant for a period of time. These instances create the rare opportunity to implement the plan’s energy measures with relatively unfettered access. An often-overlooked aspect of soft economic times is that the best vendors are more readily available, possibly at lower costs. Similarly, the plant’s most skilled staff may be more lightly loaded and available.
Investing in energy measures during a downturn may seem counterintuitive and could easily be resisted. In reality, this is often the time when measures that build long-term competitive advantage can be done at the least cost and fewest disruptions. An effective energy manager will presell and even prebudget this approach with leadership during the good times and be ready to act when the opportunity arises.
Gaining energy benefit from internally planned disturbances may be just as challenging. Again, in the manufacturing space, the addition of a new production line is one of the more common opportunities. The temptation when a line is added will be to go with the proven practices of the past with minimal changes. Also, once the addition of the line gets underway, there is pressure to get it on stream as fast as possible. However, most energy use is generally in the process, meaning deep changes may be needed to meet overall energy and climate goals. Again, preselling to manufacturing leadership long before they must implement a line addition will be key to success.
Changes in infrastructure are another area where energy measures are often overlooked. In a complex manufacturing site, a campus, or a community, roads are regularly dug up to repair or replace infrastructure of all kinds. If the energy plan calls for the installation or replacement of thermal networks, it will be quicker and cheaper to install it while the road is open for some other purpose. Again, having the clarity of the approved energy plan and resources ready to go will allow this to become a reality. Depending on timing, this may mean that some energy infrastructure could be installed even if the plan does not call for full system implementation for a while.
The list goes on. Building renovation and repurposing is a perfect moment at which to make deep energy improvements. Vehicle replacements and associated fueling and charging infrastructure should align with the long-term transportation energy plan. Even accidents and weather damage create energy-related opportunities.
Every disturbance is a potential to move energy and climate transformation forward. Are your energy plans and energy teams disturbance-ready?