The Rs of resource productivity—Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Repurpose, Refuse have typically been applied to manage physical waste. However, they can also help manage the most valuable of resources—human time and creativity.
Today’s energy manager is increasingly expected to deliver breakthrough results as a matter of course. Among many, these may include decarbonizing a company’s energy use within a decade or two or having immediate and cost-effective reactions to step changes in the energy markets such as the current global surge and unpredictably of natural gas prices. Transformative results like these can only be delivered by having comprehensive, risk-adjusted, long-term energy plans. To be successful, these plans must meet two apparently conflicting needs. They must have strong underlying directional consistency to deliver energy and climate transformations, while retaining flexibility to react to short-term pressures. Short-term events or leadership changes may also be cause for an “urgent rethink” and a “new plan.” So, what does this have to do with the Rs of productivity?
Recently, I was made aware that a U.S. community was calling for a new breakthrough energy and climate plan to replace an obsolete 12-year-old plan. The leadership calling for a new plan was itself new and unfamiliar with the prior effort, as would be the team that would develop a new zero-based plan. This is not an uncommon situation to find in the corporate setting as well.
The true cost of this decision is not insignificant, considering the years of analysis and strategy development for the previous plan, which would be repeated for the new proposed. Arguably a much larger cost will be months or even years of strategic inaction while a new plan is created. Much of these costs and delays could be avoided by “Refusing” the request to make a new plan. Instead, could the previous plan be “Reused” in some way?
The community in question is host to a major industrial sector, itself challenged to deliver substantial greenhouse gas reduction. The original energy plan included a strategy to achieve this by “Repurposing” wasted energy (i.e., waste-heat recovery) to be used in the community for heating and cooling buildings. Over time, the industrial sector has grown faster than the community as a whole, substantially increasing the scale of this opportunity for both parties. Thus, a strategy of the previous plan could potentially be “Reused” now with a far greater value.
The previous plan did identify the potential role of many newer technologies. The last decade has seen many of these technologies dramatically decrease in cost and increase in capability. Technologies once deferred in the previous plan’s recommendations can now be revisited, essentially “Reusing” the original structured analysis, but reassessing the viability in today’s reality. In a similar way, the previous plan postulated the benefits of new governance, operating and management models, many of which were thought to be too disruptive a decade ago but are now considered mainstream and could be a “Reuse” of prior assessments.
Even though more than a decade has past, the analytical process followed during the development of the original plan would remain much the same today. However, the analytical tools have become more flexible, capable, and less expensive. This highlights another opportunity to “Reuse” the original analytical process but using a more modernized toolset. As a rule, the effort to design and approve processes is the more resource intensive part of any analysis. Therefore, this also creates an opportunity to “Reduce” the overall effort, cost, and timeline.
In this example, the potential “Refusal” to develop a zero-based new plan, the “Reuse” of valid strategies and analytical processes from the previous plan, and the “Reduced” planning effort and costs could rapidly lead to an adjusted game plan in a fraction of the time.
The value of any strategic energy plan is ultimately the avoided energy and carbon costs, and the collateral environmental and other value it creates. In a manufacturing world these collateral benefits can include improved product quality and reduced waste. The energy manager’s role is tough enough—effectively “Reusing” prior work can be a high-value low-cost strategy to their success!
This story originally appeared in the November 2021 issue of Plant Services. Subscribe to Plant Services here.
This article is part of our monthly Energy Expert column. Read more from Peter Garforth.